Bare emotion


Don’t look for any shabby couch, threadbare rug, or forlorn vase of flowers on Court Theatre’s set for The Glass Menagerie. There are no end tables, no staircase, no furnace in the corner—not even the magic-lantern slides Tennessee Williams called for in the play’s original script. And, according to the production’s program, Court’s set designers insist the playwright would have wanted it that way.

By 1945, when he wrote The Glass Menagerie, Williams had grown weary of “the exhausted theatre of realistic conventions.” In search of expressionistic elements to sharpen his memory play’s dreamlike unreality (and enthralled with cinema), he instructed directors to outfit the set with a screen to project images and titles. At the time, this device constituted a controversial break with dramatic tradition; these days, however, multimedia doesn’t pack the same jolt. So Court Theatre’s set designers needed to find another way to remove the drama from strict reality and return to Williams’s original intent.

They settled on sparseness. Stripped bare of the usual clutter meant to evoke a Depression-era St. Louis tenement, Court Theatre’s stage offers the mere hint of a room inhabited by only the characters’ most resonant possessions—a typewriter, a Victrola, a high-school yearbook, a candelabra, a kitchen table, and the eponymous glass menagerie. Even the apartment’s fire escape, where some of Glass Menagerie’s seminal scenes take place, must be imagined by the actors and the audience.

In this illusory environment the semi-autobiographical drama that Williams called his saddest play unfolds. Mary Beth Fisher plays Amanda Wingfield, whose suffocating, disappointed life has transformed her into a harping mother. Chaon Cross plays her daughter Laura, a shy, crippled spinster who inhabits her own world of glass figurines and who waits for—but never quite finds—the kindness of strangers. Jay Whittaker is Tom, the play’s narrator, stage director, and Laura’s brother, a writer and factory hand who finally escapes the stifling confines of his family but never escapes his guilt at deserting them. As Jim, Laura’s long-awaited gentleman caller, Ned Noyes provokes the play’s rawest moments of hope and despair.


Photos: Jim and Laura (top). Tom and Amanda (bottom).

Photos by Michael Brosilow

March 20, 2006