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HT: Scene and Lighting Designer Brings “The Glass Menagerie” to Life

Scene and Lighting Designer Brings “The Glass Menagerie” to Life

By Jenny Porter Tilley H-T Reporter


“The scene is memory and is therefore non-realistic.”


Tennessee Williams’ words, written in the 1944 script for “The Glass Menagerie,” challenged Thom Weaver, Cardinal Stage’s scene and lighting designer for their current production.


Weaver, who artistic director Kate Galvin knows from her days on the East Coast, said it’s the first time he’s done one of Williams’ plays.


“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and for some reason have never had the opportunity to do his work,” he said in a phone interview. “His work in general, but this play specifically, is so lyrical and atmospheric that you want to honor all of that poetry and the heightened emotional plain that a play like this lives on.”


Weaver wanted to honor Williams’ words and vision, he said, “while also creating a world where we have a visual understanding of where this is and what kind of life these people lead. I wanted it to feel like a space that they can truthfully live in, while also kind of floating above all that at the same time.”


With the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center as a canvas, Weaver sought ways to achieve the duality of dreams and reality as he started making decisions. The small, intimate auditorium, he said, was perfect for this particular play.


“You really don’t want a production of ‘Glass Menagerie’ to get very big. You want to feel like you’re in the same room with everyone,” he said. Unlike on a traditional proscenium stage, in this kind of space, he said, “it’s all happening right in front of you. Everyone can sort of bear witness, which is a powerful way of experiencing the emotional content of this play.”


In past productions Weaver has seen, he’s noticed a tendency to use the same lighting techniques to ride the border between memory and reality. He wanted to try something new.


“There’s been a tendency over the past 50 or 60 years to give it kind of a warm, sepia quality, and I wanted to get away from that,” he said. “I wanted something icier, something maybe a little grayer, definitely colder. Especially because this is all Tom’s (the main character) memory, I felt like we didn’t want to over-romanticize the memory that he was engaging with.”


A sharper look and feel, accented by his lighting choices (which include fallen light bulbs surrounding the stage), are intended to give more emphasis to a candlelit scene toward the end that calls for a more romantic vibe.

One of Weaver’s favorite aspects of the set is a silhouette of the family’s absent father figure, which has been incorporated into the damask wall pattern. It’s in lieu of the playwright’s prescribed hanging photograph.


“I kind of stumbled on that as a design idea, and I really loved it, mainly because it allows us to project a larger sense of responsibility to their predicament,” Weaver said. “Rather than just have a single scapegoat who we don’t know, it raises larger questions about this male figure who’s abandoned this family and allows us to project into that image some of our own fears.”


When the theater company last year announced its 2018-19 season, Galvin said she’d heard from many fans and subscribers that they would love to have an American classic production in the lineup. “The Glass Menagerie” made its way into the season, and she sought Weaver, who she’s worked with in the past, to create a unique visual landscape.


“This is the fourth show that Thom and I have done together and I always love working with him,” Galvin said in an email statement. “His design for this show is incredibly beautiful and really honors Williams’ intent for ‘The Glass Menagerie’ to take an expressionistic form. The lighting supports the emotional arc of the play in a wonderful way.”


Cardinal Stage’s production of “The Glass Menagerie” continues through April 7. Find tickets and more information at cardinalstage.org.