Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of The Glass Menagerie is a quietly powerful rendition of Tennessee Williams’ classic play, which premiered in 1944. Directed by Donald Hicken, this show combines wonderful acting and directing with inventive lighting, a gorgeous stage, and a creative use of music to create an enchanting night of theater that will linger in audiences’ minds long afterward.
Before the play even begins, the set, with Gabriela Castillo as Scenic Designer, captures one’s attention. A couch lies at the center, doubling as Tom’s bed. A small desk with a typewriter and chair is to the left, an upholstered chair facing the couch. To the right is Laura’s collection of glass figurines, on a two-tiered table. Next to that is a phonograph. Behind the sofa, against the windows, is a small dining table. To the left is a door serving as the main entrance, with a space before it as a small porch. To the far right is a curtained doorway to the back room. It perfectly reflects this family’s increasingly desperate dream for a better life.
The cast is an incredibly talented group of actors, giving subtle, rich performances. Kurt Elftmann plays Tom, the son, narrating the story out of his memory. He perfectly captures the poetic rhythms of Tom’s recollections. Then, plunging into the action as a character, his frustration and desire to escape comes shining through. In one brilliant display, he struggles with his jacket before hurling it at the table containing Laura’s collection. His attitude changes instantly, from anger to regret, and he drops to the floor. He spends one dinner in complete silence, his arms resting on the table. His bursts of anger are even more forceful couched against his usual quietness. His description of a rollicking fantasy life as a gangster, explaining where he goes when he leaves at night, is funny, but also the cry of a man yearning for adventure.
Claire Schoonover plays Amanda, the mother, as an overbearing, controlling figure. She tries to fix Tom’s cowlick, to his irritation. Her constant talking during a meal drives Tom to distraction. She badgers Tom to find a suitable man for Laura. She puts on the charm, leading the conversation with Jim (Benjamin Russell) when he arrives, and laughing with him during their dinner. Changing into her dress before the dinner, she reminisces about her childhood, pleasure tinging her voice. There is great anger within her too, though, that emerges during her arguments with Tom. Her recriminations come quickly, resentments and regrets filling her voice. In the end, she captures a woman trying desperately to hold her family together, against history and the traps of St. Louis. Thanks to Dialect Coach Nancy Krebs, Schoonover gets the Southern accent just right.
Laura Rocklyn gives a childlike quality to Laura, Tom’s sister. She handles Laura’s physical issues excellently, with a slight dragging of her foot, enough to notice but not nearly the terrible deformity she believes it to be. Painfully shy, she pleads with her mother to answer the door when Jim is to come over. She spends the dinner with Jim lying on the couch, only getting up at one point to hold her head in her hands. During an argument between Amanda and Tom, she busies herself with her glass collection, then rushes to the back room, trying to escape the conflict.
Rocklyn has excellent chemistry with Benjamin Russell, who brings a youthful energy and enthusiasm to Jim, the gentleman caller. His interaction with Laura is amazing to watch, from her avoiding his gaze as he enters, to him later convincing her to scoot closer to him on the floor. He slowly, gently eases her out of her shell. They waltz around the stage, and he briefly, tenderly kisses her. He gleefully sees her “peculiarities” as assets, and his optimism is infectious, leading Laura to put a positive spin on damage to a figurine. It is an incredibly engaging performance.
The costumes, designed by Sandra Spence, help establish the characters. The lighting, designed by Adam Mendelson, is wonderfully inventive, highlighting the aspect of memory in the play. When Tom narrates, the stage darkens except for a spotlight on him, then brightens once he participates in the action. A three-pronged candelabra serves as light for most of the second act, creating a romantic mood for Laura and Jim. During this scene, blue light emerges from the windows behind them, which cements the connection between the two.
As Composer and Sound Designer, Marc Irwin brings touches of music to the production, adding to the atmosphere. Songs from the club across the street drift into the apartment, allowing Jim and Laura to dance. Music with a melancholy, mysterious feel lingers at the start and end of each act, just enough to highlight the emotional sense, without overpowering the scene.
Donald Hicken has done a wonderful job as Director. The actors navigate the stage and each other well, their use of all the props (including the candelabra) feeling perfectly natural. They give great nuance to their performances while hitting every emotional mark. Everything comes together for an incredibly moving show – theater at its best.
Running Time: Approximately, 2 hours and 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.