Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical play, “The Glass Menagerie,” has moved audiences for more than 70 years. Its story of an overly protective mother, her shy, self-conscious daughter and her restless, rebellious son speaks eloquently about finding love, forgiveness and one’s true self.
Such a classic can – and should – be examined for new insights into its characters and themes. Raleigh Little Theatre Artistic Director Patrick Torres emphasizes the script’s humor and warmth, steering the production toward nostalgia for the past instead of playing up its harsher realities.
This approach brings out the family’s real fondness and caring for each other, despite their highly contentious relationships. It also points up all-too-familiar family situations that elicit appreciative chuckles. But at Friday’s opening, the constant peals of laughter, especially during the first act, signaled a shortchanging of the painful truths and cautionary lessons Williams has so potently embedded throughout.
The actors confidently present Torres’ direction. Mary Rowland lets us see Amanda’s old-world vivacity as she remembers entertaining gentlemen callers before marrying a charming cad who leaves her destitute with a son and daughter to raise. But Rowland’s airy, upbeat characterization hints little at Amanda’s private sorrow and desperation, often sailing through richly poetic lines that offer myriad opportunities for depth and range.
Jesse Gephart’s Tom sympathetically etches the character’s frustration at being tied down. But Gephart’s highly comic, brightly energetic portrayal is often at odds with Tom’s lines, which reflect bitter disappointment and defeat.
Kelly McConkey’s Laura seems too assured and down-to-earth in the first act but later finds subtle layers in Laura’s tentative romantic connection with Jim (Ryan Ladue), Tom’s co-worker roped into being Laura’s gentleman caller. Ladue’s Jim makes a believable transition from brash go-getter to sensitive kindred spirit in the candlelit scene with Laura, the production’s highlight.
Elizabeth Newton’s set makes clever use of the orchestra pit as the fire escape, but her giant backdrop of empty overlapping picture frames tends to overwhelm the action. There’s also a two-level platform in the middle of the stage that makes for awkward crosses and exits.
First-timers should be entertained, but will likely leave thinking the play is a sweet comedy, something devotees of this many-faceted drama may not find satisfying.
What: “The Glass Menagerie”
Where: Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. June 16-18, 23-25; 3 p.m. June 19, 26
Tickets: $22 (seniors/students $18)
Info: 821-3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org