'Glass Menagerie': Show me the love

As part of the something-old, something-new celebration of its 50th-anniversary season, the Seattle Repertory Theatre currently features a revival of “The Glass Menagerie,” directed by associate artistic director Braden Abraham. The Rep last produced Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical, modern classic in 1979.

There’s a lot that’s right about this production. The intimate Leo K. is an appropriate venue for this four-actor familial drama. Williams’ concise and poetic dialogue does not always lend itself to naturalness in delivery, yet all four actors manage their lines with ease. 

L.B. Morse’s stunning lighting directs our eyes to a scene or a suspended moment in almost cinematic fashion. 

Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams’s gauze-wrapped, down-at-heels apartment suggests the dreaminess of this “memory play” that the audience views looking backward through the eyes of the son, Tom (Ben Huber), who also serves as narrator.

Aging Southern belle and abandoned wife Amanda Wingfield (Suzanne Bouchard) lives in genteel poverty in Depression-era St. Louis and reminisces far too frequently about her youthful glory days when she once had “17 gentleman callers” in one afternoon, much to the enragement of her restless son, Tom, an aspiring writer with a subsistence job in a warehouse. She enlists Tom’s reluctant help to invite a gentleman caller (Eric Riedmann) to dinner for his sister Laura (Brenda Joyner), whose extreme shyness is far more crippling than her slight lameness. 

Riedmann is particularly believable as the former high school heartthrob, rough around the edges but gradually revealing a gentleness and sensitivity that draws out the painfully shy Laura. Joyner imbues Laura with sparkling intelligence beneath the fragility. Joyner and Riedmann’s awkward “courtship” scene is one of the high points of the production. 

Bouchard and Huber are convincing, too, in their depiction of the dysfunctional mother-son duo. We see the tension in Tom’s body every time Amanda begins her nonstop nagging and the desperation that replaces Amanda’s annoying chirpiness whenever she is alone. 

Unfortunately, these moments of insight into Amanda’s situation are too few and far between. Abraham has chosen to take the device of the memory play literally so that the audience sees Amanda almost exclusively through the eyes of intolerant, youthful Tom, leaving us unable to see beyond the nagging harpy to the woman whose behavior is driven by love for her children. 

Without the love, Bouchard, an intelligent and talented actor, does not have the opportunity to transform Amanda into someone pitiable and trapped by the feminine conventions of her time. Instead, she alternates between being a figure of fun and, even at times, of revulsion.

“The Glass Menagerie” plays through Dec. 2 at Seattle Rep’s Leo K. Theatre. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.

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