The portion of Tennessee Williams’ soul that was tortured – and the torture was never more percetible than in The Glass Menagerie –infuses and inflicts the words and the lyricism of his semi-autobiographical masterpiece. Williams is the frustrated poet and more frustrated son, Tom Wingfield, the character through whose memory we glimpse a St. Louis household oppressed by a love-you-to-death mother, a crippled and emotionally paralyzed sister and a misguided reverence (courtesy of mother Amanda) for the imagined gentility of the Old South. Williams’ own mother, Edwina, was emphatically neurotic, and his older sister, Rose, was schizophrenic and institutionalized most of her life.
The Glass Menagerie, first produced in 1944, remains an absorbing and disturbing work of theater, especially when its dominant figure, Amanda Wingfield, receives the towering, tangled interpretation requisite of the character. (Laurette Taylor originated the role on Broadway; among those who distinguished themselves in later filmed productions were Gertrude Lawrence and Katharine Hepburn.) Rosina Reynolds is the ideal choice for Amanda in Cygnet Theatre’s new production on stage in Old Town. A veteran actress of well documented versatility, Reynolds’ instincts are on-target throughout the play, whether she’s called upon to exhibit smothering mother love, wispy Southern grace or spurts of temper awash in pain and resentment.
Reynolds, who fittingly commands every scene in which she appears, is complemented by Francis Gercke as the conflicted son, Tom; Brian Mackey as the affable and sympathetic Gentleman Caller; and Amanda Sitton as daughter Laura. Sitton, an intuitive and expressive actress, is most affecting when her character is not speaking but instead crouched on the floor before her animal friends of glass or curled up, like a frightened fetus, on the couch.
Director Sean Murray has all the pieces in place for an unbreakable Glass Menagerie (though the use of recorded tinkling piano during some of the dramatic interludes feels desultory). This is a dark story recounted in stark memory where hope is elusive and love an enigma. You’re somewhat surprised when you exit into the Old Town festivity and nothing in the night has changed.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.