I suppose I should mention that I love Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. I remember reading it for the first time in high school and being completely swept away. Each member of the Wingfield family resonated with me. I had a crush on Tom, I identified with Laura and I found a well of sympathy for Amanda that I couldn’t even tap into for my own mother. In fact, looking back, I think reading The Glass Menagerie may have been my first proper experience with empathy. I also think the connection I felt with the play kept me from seeing it performed. In my mind’s eye, each character sounded, looked and moved a certain way. I’d committed Williams’ vivid and bleak description of the threadbare apartment to memory. I could see see Tom smoking on the fire escape and I knew what Amanda’s cotillion dress looked like. I didn’t want anyone to mess with that.
Once I got out of high school, I forgot about the play. I didn’t forget forget, but I didn’t read it again. I stopped having an opinion on it. Basically, I got busy doing all sorts of other things and 20 years later, I’m no longer quite so proprietary about the Wingfields and the gentleman caller. A lot of distance and a little growing up fixed that. And so I was pleased to discover that the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre would be performing The Glass Menagerie right around the corner from my house, no less.
From the opening act to the final scene, I was transported to the big-city 1930s. Patricia Reilly’s set & costumes matched or at least didn’t conflict with the vision I’d carried for decades. The lighting was excellent and the images projected on to a transparent curtain added to the faded, romantic and of course, bleak setting of the the Wingfield apartment where the entire play takes place. Portraits of Amanda Wingfield and the absent Mr. Wingfield flank the stage and eerily come to life throughout the play. The original music and sound design by Brooke Maxwell worked surprisingly well. I admit I was dubious when I read that there was to be a soundtrack, but the pieces are well-written and knit the performances together nicely.
SNAFU Dance Theatre member and UVic alumni, Victor Dolhai certainly looked and dressed the part of Tom Wingfield, thanks in part to Patricia Reilly’s costume design. Although at times, I found his southern accent wavered, I enjoyed his performance. He captured the cagey, desperate quality of the character and brought an unexpected passion to the role.
Triple threat Sarah Jane Pelzer (also UVic alumni) portrayed Laura Wingfield with both a dreamy sadness and a sense of humour. The painful and heartbreakingly hopeful scene with gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor (Matthew Coulson), was probably her best performance of the evening. Coulson was excellent as aging golden boy with ambition. It is through his performance that we understand the tragedy of Laura’s loss. The only real criticism I have is again, Pelzer's accent was inconsistent.
Now, I’ve purposely left Joanne Wilson as Amanda Wingfield to the end—mostly because I didn’t want to start off too gushy. But, now I get to. Simply put, she was wonderful. Moving beautifully across the stage, Wilson’s fading southern belle evoked pity, admiration and laughter from the audience. For me, she was the most believable Wingfield—from her lilting southern accent to her tough-as-nails devotion to her children. Truly a great performance.
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finally see this play on stage. Director Brian Richmond stayed true to William's stage direction and for me, that was a real treat. Not for the first time, I count my lucky stars that the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre exists. And not just because I can walk to it. Honest.