Left – Anthony Gooley. Cover – Nic English and Kate Cheel. Photos – Matt Nettheim
State Theatre Company of South Australia's production of The Glass Menagerie by Thomas Lanier Williams, who took the name 'Tennessee' Williams has a lot to offer; this 'memory play' was developed by Williams drawing from a short story he had written and his original screenplay titled 'The Gentleman Caller' which had been rejected by MGM. Williams adapted the screenplay into The Glass Menagerie and the tale finally found its true place in the theatre.
Many elements of Williams' personal history are reflected in this masterful work. The playwright's father was a travelling salesman for a shoe company; in the play the absent father has hit the road, and hasn't been seen for nearly two decades except in the form of his portrait hanging in the family home. The son, Tom Wingfield, works in a shoe factory.
Williams had a mother who had been raised in the Deep South and had trouble adjusting to life as it became less gracious; he also had a sister, Rose, who had complex behavioural problems and was lobotomised sometime in the mid 1930s.
Director Adam Cook has carefully respected the various nuances in the play and worked at creating a production that looks and sounds authentic to the finest detail.
The Dunstan Playhouse is transformed by Victoria Lamb's slyly fractured vision of the family apartment which is roused into being by Tom's words as he introduces his haunting memory.
The costumes, textures and colours are so sheer you can almost see right through them, just like the magnificently delicate menagerie kept by Laura Wingfield, Tom's distantly fragile sister.
Mark Pennington's lighting design transforms weighty and perilous elements of Lamb's marvellous set into the realms of fantasy, melancholy, dreams and memories; subdued and ethereal licks of light gently pulse like a quivering heartbeat at times and deftly illuminate the dainty side-show menagerie of glass from within.
Anthony Gooley as Tom Wingfield plays his part with a well positioned balance between the haunted poet and the henpecked son, delivering lyrical poetic lines without too much fuss and plenty of realistic verve. The hen in question and abandoned wife is Amanda Wingfield. Amanda is a fading Southern belle who knows all too well the terrible destiny that awaits an unmarried girl in a world that is becoming harsher and more odious as her own glorious memories fade into insignificantly dated and repetitious anecdotes.
The character of Amanda is a whirlwind of pragmatism, desperation and fear. Her motherly love is easily mistaken for self serving aggrandisement, but Amanda Wingfield is no Blanche DuBois; the dilemma and exasperation Amanda embodies is not unreasonable nor is it masking dark hidden secrets and Deidre Rubenstein does the role infinite justice.
Rubenstein's excellent portrayal of Amanda comes close to being outright annoying in perfect harmony with every son's memory of a stressed-out mum, and the heartfelt plea that her boy help find his sister a mate before he too abandons their nest appears with grave sincerity.
The 'gentleman caller' Jim O'Connor, Tom's work-mate invited home for dinner, is a perfect foil to the tensions that have built as the story develops; affably played by Nic English, he is a much needed breath of fresh air into the increasingly circumspect Wingfield home.
Over all, Adam Cook's casting is flawless and nothing short of exemplary, particularly with the mildly disabled daughter Laura.
Kate Cheel imbues Laura with every ingredient you would wish; natural comedic finesse mixed with deeply felt but withheld desire and tragically awkward alienation, combined into a gently unassuming young woman whose self-esteem has never really bloomed.
This rendering of The Glass Menagerie is a delicious production of a classic American play by a marvellously poetic Pulitzer Prize winner; it's quite likely to leave you wondering, hoping and glad to be alive.
State Theatre Company of South Australia presents
The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Director Adam Cook
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 4 - 26 May 2012
Tickets: $49.00 - $29.00