Thursday, December 27, 2018
As revered as it is in the theater world, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie may still be underrated. Without the frenzied physicality of A Streetcar Named Desire, and despite the fact that it consists of a series of relatively static tableaus involving a mere quartet of performers, it still manages to permanently alter one’s sense of what theater can be whenever it receives a strong production. Williams never went deeper or saw further than he did in this, his first successful show, and I am delighted to report that Lit Moon’s revised production brings out the best in it.
Once you get past the initial incongruity of seeing Stanley Hoffman in the role of Tom, which is often played by a younger actor, you begin to feel the essential rightness John Blondell’s casting decision. Tom’s connection to the narrator, and to our intuition of the playwright’s soul, warrants an approach from the longer perspective of maturity and stage experience. Hoffman and Victoria Finlayson, who plays Amanda, have a deep connection that’s born from decades of working together on an extraordinary range of challenging material. Their confidence in one another allows them to reveal the agonizing volatility of this difficult relationship between a mother and her grown son without sacrificing the sorrowful, grieving tenderness at its core. It’s a big ask to play these two characters to the hilt, and these performers are well up to it.
Chris Wagstaffe and Anna Telfer also excel as Jim and Laura, with Wagstaffe having sharpened and strengthened his portrayal since debuting in the role with Lit Moon in September of 2016. Telfer, the one new cast member since that version, brings a fresh perspective to the demanding directorial vision Blondell has had all along for the role. The extreme physicality of her performance never feels like a stunt, and, when she rises to her full stature in the moments leading up to the play’s fateful kiss, she fulfills Williams’ unforgettable stage direction that in the warmth of Jim’s attentions, she appears to be “[lit] inwardly with altar candles.”