Dallas — Taking on a theatrical icon such as Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is not for the faint of heart. The actors of Theatre Three’s current production proved that they, with only minor flutters, are up to the task.
This play features only four characters, Amanda Wingfield (Connie Coit) and her adult children Tom (Blake Blair) and Laura (Allison Pistorius), and a Gentleman Caller, Jim, who appears only in the final scenes of the play (Sterling Gafford). The three Wingfields create a triad that manages to stunt the development of each of them. Amanda is stuck in her Southern-belle past, unable to fully face the realities of life as an abandoned wife and mother in a cramped St. Louis apartment. Laura is trapped in an interior world of her own shyness and anxiety, while Tom simmers as a shoe factory worker supporting his mother and sister, but longing to write and to see the world.
The volatility of the relationship between Amanda and Tom is counterbalanced by their mutual sense of Laura’s fragility and profound vulnerability in a world ill-suited for her. However, they react to her temperament in different ways: Tom is tender to his sister, but eventually abandons her and their mother, just as their father has done; while Amanda pushes Laura to a career or a marriage, pragmatic choices to be sure, but impossible for the desperately shy Laura.
In Theatre Three’s production, Connie Coit embodies Amanda nearly flawlessly—she became this disappointed woman, reliving the glory days of her past with optimism. Coit’s balance between tragedy and comedy leaned more toward the comic in this production, and that’s not necessarily a misstep. The Glass Menagerie is an autobiographical memory play, and just as Tennessee Williams saw his own family in the characters, so, perhaps, can some audience members. Thus, the laughter Amanda provokes is that of wry recognition for the mother pushing her children in directions that they cannot or will not go.
Allison Pistorius is a tall, athletically built actor, so her Laura is inevitably more robust than is usual. Still, her body language builds Laura’s character into the withdrawn, self-conscious woman Williams created.
Although Blake Blair’s Tom seemed a bit stilted at first, he quickly settled into his role, breaking the fourth wall in his initial speech to offer us an insight into this play comprised of Tom’s memories.
The smaller but pivotal role of Jim, the Gentleman Caller, was nicely done by Sterling Gafford. He and Pistorius quickly built the rapport needed for their scene together, in which the crush-burdened Laura is kissed and then immediately devastated by Jim, who reveals that he’s engaged to be married.
Also of note are the exemplary lighting and sound, created by Lisa Miller and Rich Frohlich, respectively, and production design by director Bruce R. Coleman. Although this adaptation does not use the projections called for in some early versions of Williams’ stage directions, the lighting, including various special effects, is just right for Williams’ dimly lit “memory play.” Similarly, the sound, which involves interweaving of music into the dialogue and action, was timed with remarkable precision.
Because of the design of Theatre Three’s in-the-round space, a few liberties had to be taken with Williams’ stage directions—the portrait of Laura and Tom’s absent father, for instance, is an unobtrusive photo on a side table rather than the room-dominating portrait that Williams describes. Still, these minor alterations work well, as do costumes. Although Laura’s burnt orange cardigan and skirt in the first act is a warmer, more cheerful color than audiences might associate with her character, the style is 1940s perfect, as are Amanda’s floral-print dress and the male characters’ baggy pleated trousers. Best, however, is Amanda’s dress in the second act, as she prepares to receive the Gentleman Caller. It is a masterpiece of early-20th-century excess, an ankle-length confection of ecru lace. Amanda’s appearance in The Dress rightly earned one of the biggest laughs of the evening.
It’s rare to see this icon of Modernist American drama performed as well as Theatre Three has done, so go see The Glass Menagerie while you can.