Tennessee Williams' famed "memory play" about his days at the International Shoe Company warehouse on 15th Street in downtown St. Louis, "The Glass Menagerie," is a searing look at the playwright's family. It's made even harsher by the fact that while he wrote, looking backward a decade or so, his anger seemed to grow. The powerful drama opened last night as a production of Dramatic License at the theater's space in Chesterfield Mall. It will run through March 18.
Director Bill Whitaker takes a slightly different approach in his staging, and a subdued blue palette by lighting designer Max Parilla plays into this nicely. The stage is very deep, but not wide, and scenic designer Courtney Sanazaro-Sloey gives us a downstage parlor, where the menagerie is located, a midstage dining room and a far upstage kitchen, out of sight but not sound.
Whitaker, perhaps influenced by the technique used in the Oscar-winning film, "The Artist," uses occasional subtitles projected on the upstage wall. Some of them work very well. Some fall flat. Kim Furlow offers a fine performance as Amanda Wingfield (Edwina Williams in real motherly life). It's different from others we've seen, but certainly effective. Furlow's Amanda is less genteel, and one wonders if she really was a southern belle in Mississippi or if she is in her own memory play, where she dreams of magnolia-scented verandas and the days when "17 gentlemen callers" came to bring jonquils and pay homage.
Antonio Rodriguez is brilliant and totally believable as Tom (Tennessee) and as what amounts to his inner voice, narrating, setting scenes, discussing the characters and the action, philosophizing here and there. Macia Noorman, as Laura, is so shy as to be practically invisible. She's in pain, and more important, she is terrified by life. A problem with her performance is that her limp is barely perceptible; she should not be totally characterized by it, but it's part of the problem and should show up a little more. Tom Lehmann is solid -- and stolid -- as Jim, the Gentleman Caller. He was a football hero, the star of "Pirates of Penzance," and the captain of the debate team at Soldan High School. Laura has a total crush on him and, a few years later, Tom might be able to confess his own. But for the moment, Jim recognizes that he has done a lot of harm and has no idea of how to reverse it.
Furlow's Amanda is strong, self-centered and desperately frightened over her future, and that of her daughter. But all the characters are afraid, as was Williams when he wrote the play in the early 1940s (it was first produced in 1944). And looking back over 60-plus years, we all know the power of fear and the inaccuracy of memory. Tennessee Williams knew them better than most.
The Glass Menagerie, a production of Dramatic License, opened last night at the Art Space in Chesterfield Mall, to run through March 18