Monster Box does Williams proud with ‘Menagerie’
WATERFORD TWP., Mich.–Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie, currently playing at Waterford’s Monster Box Theatre, is a heartbreakingly tender, tragic play. Its characters are the everyday millions of us, past and present who often feed their spirit on moments of past glory or by lusting over daydreams of future adventures, or even more drastic retreats into fantasy.
Everyone in the Wingfield family is escaping into something, and everyone is, in their own way, as fragile as the play’s eponymous glass collection. For mother Amanda, the fantasy is rose-colored memories of her debutante days, before she married the man who would abandon her with two small children. For young Tom, drudging through workdays at a Depression-era warehouse, escape is books and movies and daydreams of exotic travel.
And for his sister Laura, that wounded bird of a young woman, it is of course, a flight into imagination, tending her tiny glass figurines and cranking up the Victrola.
These days, there might be clinical diagnoses and therapies for a Laura: Perhaps she agoraphobic. Maybe she’s an ISFJ or some other four-letter label from the Meyers Briggs tests. But even today, similarly sensitive, timid folk also barely scrape through the day, just like Tom’s delicate sister.
And then there’s Laura’s Gentleman Caller, an iconic example of those many folk who may – or may not – have peaked in high school.
Tom Wingfield is portrayed by Joseph Sfair, who was excellent as both Jim Jones and one of his sons in last fall’s Puzzle Piece production “The People‘s Temple.” His interpretation of Tom here tilts slightly more toward cynical pragmatist than dreamy poet. This makes him strong in the alternating scenes of antagonism and tentative truces with his mother.
He also plays the older Tom (whom we might infer became a writer) in the same straightforward manner. It’s a contrast to the evocative imagery that bursts forth in the fourth-wall breaking monologs. (At one point Williams has Tom comparing the many cities he’s passed through to fallen autumn leaves, colorful but ephemeral.)
During the course of the evening, Mary Dilworth grows into the role of Laura, morphing briefly from the painfully shy young recluse into the glowing woman she could be. Dressed in a pale blue frou-frou dress, she meets the former high school classmate who’d once nicknamed her Blue Roses. (He’d thought that was the name of the illness – pleurosis – she’d had.)
During that lengthy second act scene with this Gentleman Caller, she blossoms under the momentary attentions of a nice young man, before – Spoiler Alert – wilting once more.
Maria Kelly too finds the range of subtleties in Amanda, at first seeming to be just a Southern belle flibbertigibbet, until we gradually see the more cruel mother underneath, lambasting her daughter for not being like herself. (Or her image of herself.)
Jeremy Kucharek is a strong presence as James, the Gentleman Caller. Having seen other interpretations, it seems to me a tough role to navigate, but Kucharek moves easily from the prototypical smiley Big Man On Campus who takes up all the air in the room, to a still somewhat self-involved but encouraging (temporary) friend of Laura’s.
Director Stacy Grutza has ably guided this cast, and she and artistic director Paul Stark have created an appropriate atmosphere for the memory play set in a cramped St. Louis apartment.
Monster Box has at times been overly ambitious in its schedule of shows, leading to some noticeable unevenness from play to play. But this production is a fine presentation of an American theatre classic.