Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

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HT Review: Grab Your Sunglasses; Cardinal’s ‘Glass Menagerie’ Gleams

Grab Your Sunglasses; Cardinal’s ‘Glass Menagerie’ Gleams

March 26, 2019

 

Friday night’s super moon wasn’t the only thing shining brighter and bigger than normal. Lighting up Bloomington nearly as dauntingly was Cardinal Stage’s revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”

A work this well-loved, -performed and -viewed seems like a risk for a small company to tackle, but Cardinal Artistic Director Kate Galvin, who directed, ferreted out the right four cast members and highlighted them on a minimalistic and effective set by Thomas Weaver. Those strings of lights Cardinal had appealed to the public to provide (clever idea) twinkled like lightning bugs, from their scattered positions on the floor around the raised stage. Good.

 

Williams’ memory play, one that relies on the narrator’s recalling past events, was first in this genre and won a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award 14 days after its second opening, on Broadway. It’s thought to be his most autobiographical play, and in real life his sister had a tragic ending, dissimilar to Laura’s in the play.

Although people talk about Amanda Wingfield being the story’s main character, the plot revolves around her daughter, Laura, to whom every other cast member is inextricably linked. Courtney Relyea-Spivack jumped into the role and grabbed it by the horn. Relyea-Spivack illuminated Laura’s strength and flexibility in a way that made me respect her. Don’t be fooled by her hand-wringing, skirt-grasping insecurity. I wrung my own hands, waiting for that ending, which I kept hoping Galvin would rewrite. Darn. At least Laura gets a better ending than Williams’ own sister, Rose Isabel Williams, did. Rose’s mother ordered her a frontal lobotomy.

Amanda has named Laura’s collection of little glass animals “the glass menagerie,” and some think this, particularly the glass unicorn, refers only to Laura, who is stiff, introverted, slightly crippled and, thus, a misfit. But the entire Wingfield family fits the “glass” description, each one, from cynical younger brother Tom (Steve Pacek) to Amanda, being small (minded) and easy to break.

Francesca Sobrer as mother Amanda is an earthy, vibrant alternative to the Amandas we automatically think of: Katherine Hepburn, Cherry Jones, Joanne Woodward, Jessica Lange, Sally Field etc. It’s a coveted role, and she has one of my favorite lines about depending on others: “eating the crust of humility.”

 

 

One of the most likable and powerful Jim O’Connors I’ve seen is Michael Bayler, as a potential suitor for Laura. He is the play’s “saver,” taking that job from Amanda, who wants to save everyone but doesn’t know how. Like many of us, she keeps stumbling over her own feet. Nagging rarely works; we all know that, but it doesn’t stop us.

Jim is nearing the top of “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” and is “self-actualizing,” that point of Maslow’s where one has satisfied the more basic requirements and now pursues one’s talents and potentialities. “Isn’t there anything you like to do more than anything else?” he implores Laura, trying to sort out her positive aspects. Unlike her mother and brother, he knows they exist. Jim is honest and kind and fun, and I want him for Laura. Chilling was Galvin’s choice of having him pause during his upstage-right exit. Without giving too much away, Betty (unseen character) is boring. Tom, more like his mother than his father (who abandoned the family 16 years ago), lives in a world of movie-going and drink to soften his miserable life as warehouse worker and Wingfield breadwinner. “You ugly babbling old witch,” he screams at his mother after a bout of her continuous, if well-meaning, criticism (oh, the unloved critic). The next day, however, the two chat and joke. Pacek gives Tom a gentleness and approachability I’ve not seen before.

 

I have only one disappointment: I wish, somehow, Amanda’s jonquils could be real. Williams must have known what being trapped in a family felt like, and I did too by the time Friday’s super moon rose.

 

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