A commendable ‘Glass Menagerie’ at cozy NOVA Nightsky Theater

Director Hannah Ruth Wellons delivers on the play’s nostalgic tone and heart-wrenching moments, balanced with humor and a playful family dynamic.

Families share so much from generation to generation. Some hand-me-downs are immediately on view, such as eye colors, facial features, and habits. Others, like hopes, dreams, and traumas, only appear over time. These invisible inheritances and their effects are at the heart of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. The same is true of NOVA Nightsky Theater’s commendable production, running Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays now through April 27.

Adam Ressa as Tom in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ Photo by Heather Regan.

Framed as a “memory play,” The Glass Menagerie shows the final fraying of the Wingfield family, told in an extended flashback by Tom (Adam Ressa), a fledging poet restrained by his menial job and familial demands in 1930s St. Louis. His mother, Amanda (Jessie Roberts), a self-styled belle, clings to her memories of a genteel past, while fretting about the future for her son and her daughter, Laura (Jen Ware), whose poor health and sensitivity have shut her off from the world. As Tom plots his escape, Amanda, desperate to see her daughter provided for, convinces him to invite a co-worker (Thomas O’Neill) over to call on Laura.

The play’s premiere in 1944 lit the blue torch paper and launched Williams’ career sky-high. Audiences have seen the autobiographical play on stages of all sizes ever since. Given its standing, a production could be forgiven for feeling some intimidation. None can be detected in NOVA Nightsky’s thoughtful production. Director Hannah Ruth Wellons delivers on the play’s nostalgic tone (aided by Ressa’s throwback soundtrack and moody lighting, designed with Noelani Stevenson) and heart-wrenching moments. But Wellons makes the play her own by balancing those with a welcome sense of humor and playful family dynamic. The Wingfields are all storytellers. Their shared ability in make-believe unites them even as it divides them. The love that has kept them together, and that Tom must turn his back on, is painfully clear.

NOVA Nightsky’s studio theater is so cozy that the audience should by rights contribute to the Wingfields’ electric bill. Set and property designer Sabrina McAllister packs an entire apartment and fire escape into the shoebox space. The close quarters afford a good view of the actors’ thoughtful performances of Williams’ complicated characters.

Ressa brings a whole-hearted volubility to Tom. His shock of curly hair seems to rise higher and higher with Tom’s indignation, though some of the character’s sharpest angles, his volatility and flashes of outright cruelty, are smoothed out. Charming as the play’s narrator, Ressa occasionally loses clarity in Tom’s more purple prose.

As Laura, Ware is as still and fragile as a porcelain doll, in Carol Pappas’ cinched-up, full-skirted, and pink-bowed costumes. Her eyes are permanently glassy, as if on the verge of tears. At times, she has to wring the words out of herself. When her Gentleman Caller, wisely kept enigmatic by O’Neill and Wellon, shows her a moment of genuine attention in the play’s final scene, the delightfully unique person Laura might have become under different circumstances briefly shines, to Ware’s complete credit.

TOP: Jessie Roberts as Amanda, Adam Ressa as Tom, and Jen Ware as Laura; ABOVE: Jen Ware as Laura and Tom O’Neill as jim, n ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ Photos by Heather Regan.

The biggest cause of Laura’s timidity and Tom’s ire is their mother, Amanda, who would be their greatest advocate if only she knew how. The role is a decathlon of emotions, from charming to petty, proud to ashamed, practical to delusional, vindictive to wounded, and more. Jessie Roberts brings a malleable voice and face that shift from light and airy to dark and furrowed. Her far-off stares suggest just how far back Amanda has to look to find a moment of joy.

“Who among us has not been touched, haunted, or pursued by memories, collective or individual? What does it mean to dwell on memories…” Wellons asks her in a program note. NOVA Nightsky Theater’s production of The Glass Menagerie is a fitting rumination on that question, a reminder that as we make our own way in the world, we carry so much and so many with and within ourselves.

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Glass Menagerie plays through April 27, 2024, at NOVA Nightsky Theater, 1057 W Broad St, Unit 216, Falls Church, VA. Tickets ($28.70) are available online. For tickets and more information, please visit novanightskytheater.com.

A digital program is available here, and you can learn more about each artist on the production’s About the Artist page.

COVID Safety: Masks are optional.


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