The Glass Menagerie at Playmakers Theater through March 7
According to Tennessee Williams, “Time is the longest distance between two places.”
When a play is done as superbly as Playmakers Theater’s current production of The Glass Menagerie, however, the distance between “Lights up” and “The curtain falls” feels less like two plus hours than a blink of the eye, a snap-of-the-fingers journey that reveals the tortured humanity of four vivid lives.
Co-Directors Michael Doyle Graves & Anysia Genre give us a beautifully paced and well-staged no-frills version of Williams’ first great play. They have guided their four-member cast to deeply felt, highly intelligent performances that consistently and thrillingly convey the underlying emotions of the lines they speak. The production’s gorgeously modulated flow of words prevents any flatness or sense of “talkiness” from settling in, as can sometimes happen, but, instead, makes virtually every line seem as fresh as though they’re being spoken for the first time.
Graves & Genre’s transitions between scenes could be smoother, but that was easily overlooked and might improve as the run continues.
Arden Allen Dufilho’s Amanda Wingfield clearly loves and cares for her children Tom and Laura, but her pseudo-scientific observations and insistence on bourgeois conventions could drive anyone crazy. Dufilho is the most real Amanda I’ve ever seen, jettisoning all of the typical “Southern belle” flourishes that tend to accrue to her; by simply trusting Williams’ words themselves she comes off as much more believable than other actresses who have “ACTED” the role.
Dufilho’s light touch and unadorned approach allows certain marvelous lines that too often get swallowed up to breathe and get noticed:
Tom has a “temperament like a Metropolitan [Opera] star!”
“Sometimes you can be as eloquent as an oyster,” also to Tom (if a slight deviation from Williams’ text).
A quietly devastating “Who are you?”, again to her son, as she rails against him.
And a touching “There’s so many things in my heart that I cannot describe to you.”
This Amanda can be tough, but is bewildered by her children’s actions, as though they inhabit a different universe than hers. Dufilho mixes righteousness and a pinch of haughtiness along with understandable anger and frustration into Amanda’s psyche. And yet, she lets go of all that when she transports herself back to her younger days and recalls when she entertained “gentleman callers”.
In her flawless performance, Dufilho adds a splendid visual touch in the second act. We’re used to seeing Amanda emerge in an old fancy dress of hers to entertain Laura’s Gentleman Caller. The lagniappe that Dufilho supplies is to not only figuratively let down her hair, but to literally do so in a way–a long single curl to the side–that layers prettiness with an insinuating girlishness that conjures up Amanda’s youth.
Dufilho is well-matched by Matthew Eli Judd as Tom, the stand-in for Williams himself. A bear of a man, Judd speaks the subtle poetry of Williams’ lines better than any other Tom I’ve seen while balancing, exquisitely, Tom’s anger and the wry humor he uses as a survival tactic. Together, he and Dufilho expertly capture the tenderness and combativeness between this mother and son.
As the “terribly shy” Laura, Jamie Ferguson Lee, though properly gawky, occasionally elicits unintentional laughs with facial expressions more suitable to a Carol Burnett parody of Menagerie. Other than those moments, however, Lee acutely illustrates Laura’s heartbreaking situation.
Unlike most Jim O’Connors (aka “the Gentleman Caller”) who too often look like they could’ve stepped out of a GQ spread, Jason Smith fulfills Tom’s description of him as “ordinary” and just “above average”. Smith, however, crucially evinces the confidence and bonhomie of this former high school golden boy. Together with Lee, he spins the delicate tapestry of the famed second act scene in which Laura finds a few minutes of happiness.
Aaron Genre’s simple set well-defines the Wingfields’ genteel shabbiness. Amelia Trosclair’s lighting, however, could be sharper.
Curiously, something that bothers me in most Menageries, I was able to overlook here, namely the absence of any acknowledgment of Tom’s homosexuality; after all, not only does he share Williams’ initials, but as Amanda intuits, he’s not “going to the movies” when he barrels out the door at nearly midnight. I guess when everything works as magically as it does in Covington, who needs realism?
The Glass Menagerie continues at Playmakers Theater (19106 Playmakers Rd., Covington) Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm through March 7. For more information and tickets go to https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/