Theatre review: The Glass Menagerie

Is Tennessee Williams’ memory play a poetic hymn to the departed or a pained sacrifice made to silence a guilty conscience?

RMTC artistic director Steven Schipper’s Glass Menagerie comes down firmly on the former. Reliving a son’s final weeks with his desperate single mother and painfully shy sister, an iconic script, good cast and solid production support (Deco Dawson’s projections are the best design elements I’ve seen in a main stage show) are overlaid with a layer of positivity that’s feels at odds with the text.  Yes, Tom Wingfield’s opening monologue writes a prescription for sentimentality as he launches into his mother’s long shot plot to get awkward Laura hitched. Given the events of the play, however, and the unresolved burdens that make up Tom’s final exit, the whole thing reads like it’s taken too many happy pills.

It’s a far from fatal O.D., though. There’s excellent work onstage that’s both clear and multifaceted, particularly from Kelli Fox as southern matron Amanda. Her competing ideas of herself – southern belle, caring mother, indomitable survivor – mix in a grounded, nuanced performance. Andrea del Campo’s unshowy Amanda is more clumsy nerd than the traditional hushed wisp, but she’s all the better cast and more endearing for that. Her candlelit footwork with Tim Ziegler’s gentleman caller lives up to one of the best scenes from American theatre. There’s a lot of trust in the audience to pick up all the undercurrents, both from the writing and the acting. Thank you.

Ryan James Miller’s Tom is a bit more problematic. Entertaining with excellent comic timing, his wanderlusting Tom isn’t believable as a man being ground to dust by the pressure combo of a soul-crushing job, unfulfilled ambition and a demanding mother. It’s just not grounded, with a light touch that’s in keeping with the overall tone but lines and choices unmotivated.

If this production doesn’t reflect the full dramatic potential of the play, it’s a clear, entertaining family dramedy of (to borrow a phrase) lives lived in quiet desperation. The gem still shines, occasionally it sparkles, and the cast’s work make for a memorable night.


The Glass Menagerie

By Tennessee Williams

John Hirsch Stage (MTC)

Through March 8


Directed by Steven Schipper; with Andrea del Campo, Kelli Fox, Ryan James Miller and Tim Ziegler; set and costume design by Charlotte Dean; lighting design by Hugh Conacher; video projection design by Deco Dawson; music composed by Marc Desormeaux; sound design by John Bent Jr.; choreography by Sofia Costantini; assistant directed by Michelle Boulet; apprentice directed by Kelly Rae Jenken; stage managed by Margaret Brook; assistant stage managed by Michael Duggan; apprentice stage managed by Matthew Lagacé.

(Photo credits to Bruce Monk)

Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.