Volume 90, Issue 66

Wednesday, January 22, 1997



Reflections in the looking glass

Gazette file photo
IF YOU STARE AT THE SUN, WILL YOU GO BLIND? Patricia Gage and Liisa Repo-Martell during one of the scenes in The Grand Theatre's latest production, The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie
At The Grand Theatre
Jan. 17 - Feb. 1

Dysfunctional: defined as performing badly or improperly, malfunctioning.

Tennessee Williams may have thought his family was dysfunctional, but in truth this theme is universal, because normality is a myth. Perhaps that is why audiences have been drawn to the work of Williams for decades. In The Grand Theatre's latest production, The Glass Menagerie, the autobiographical insight successfully portrays familial disruption and personal unhappiness stemming from shattered illusions.

The play begins with an illuminated figure standing among a set cloaked in darkness, smoking a cigarette and narrating his own story – one which is "truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." It is a story that feeds off the misfits, the tragic, the disappointed and those "bewildered by life." It is a play inspired by Williams' own life and that of his sister Rose. In the words of The Grand Theatre's artistic director, Michael Shamata, The Glass Menagerie "is a tribute and an apology to Miss Rose."

The cast is small, but the performances are splendid – exuding anger, frustration, sadness and misplaced happiness. Patricia Gage is captivating as an older, worn-down southern belle named Amanda, disappointed by her past but optimistic and pushy towards her son Tom's (Shaun Smyth) future. The humour is drawn from Tom's exasperated confrontations with his overbearing mother, as he yells sarcastically and sighs, "I think how lucky dead people are."

The play is particularly centred on the tension between Amanda's reminiscences and hopes for the future and Tom's need to puncture his present life in which he supports his family by working at a warehouse. It is a life which he desperately wants to abandon in order to lead one of adventure, to leave behind the movies and create his own excitement. He dreams of a life on his own in a different country and a life which bears a conscious resemblance to his father, a telephone man who loved distances.

The fragile centerpiece in the play is Laura (Liisa Repo-Martell), a character who quietly exists in a world filled with nervous tendencies and glass menagerie. Repo-Martell (The English Patient) gives an excellent performance of a young woman bewildered by her brother's exasperation with the stagnation of memories and the sting of poverty. While her dialogue is sparse, there is much said in her innocent, confused gaze at the moon and in her stilted, handicapped posture.

The first act of the play is centred on Victoria's blueprint for Laura's life. As a crippled girl without much ambition, she is the perfect candidate for a life of domesticity in post-war America. The tension explodes in the second act when Tom brings home an acquaintance, Gallander, from work, who happens to be the only boy Laura ever loved. In a crucially intense scene, Laura comes out from her shell and exists and is destroyed all at once. The scene is slightly hindered by Gallander's incessant hissing stutter which links the two characters.

Despite an immediate awkwardness between Repo-Martell and Gallander, and a curtain which hinders rather than enhances the action, The Glass Menagerie is a tragic play about silent endurance and frustrated outbursts. It is a play about dysfunctionalism rooted in good intentions and a mother's concern for her children. It is a highly enjoyable play, enhanced by subtle music and an intervening narration that beckons to us all, that asks us to define sorrow, despair, distance and normality.

–Emily Ruffell

To Contact The Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca