‘The Glass Menagerie’ is a Paradox of Magnificent Pain

gmIn this 40th season of the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s illustrious existence, they returned to the roots of the organization with a reprise of the very first play produced at PPT, The Glass Menagerie.

Before the show started, Director of PPT, Ted Pappas, made a brief introduction, and members from PNC Bank, a company that has supported PPT since its inception, also spoke a few inspired words, touching on the importance of theater within the community.

The crowd was excited to be a part of something so special, as they shouted out answers to triva-style questions.

Applause ensued, adding to the jovial atmosphere, and now…Onto the performance.

The Glass Menagerie is a haunting play from the mind of playwright, Tennessee Williams, who many believe to have mused this play from his own tragedies.

The production is set in 1937 St. Louis and follows The Wingfields, a quirky and somewhat decimated family unit consisting of:

Amanda Wingfield (Lynne Winterstellar), an overbearing mother that struggles with the untimely abandonment from her husband, unrelenting pressure to cultivate her son’s financial success and find her daughter a suitable ‘Gentleman Caller’.

Now dependent on her son, she’s overtly antagonistic and regretful, obsessing over piddly details while she floats in between the reality of what is and what should be. Seemingly cold and stark, she is driven by her children, the only semblance of purpose in her now disappointing life.

Tom Wingfield (Fisher Neal), the snarky and jaded son; a writer at heart, he gave up his dream job to support his family. Bitter and unforgiving of his father and mother, Tom lashes out with an acid tongue, often annoyed by anything that comes in his path, especially his mother. He is a ticking time bomb, fervent in the pursuit of a uni-directional path of redemption.

Laura Wingfield (Cathryn Wake), the introverted, physically disabled sister and daughter. She’s the x-factor,a tie that binds Tom and Amanda together. She’s anxiety ridden and beautifully misunderstood, seemingly detached from the outside world, her only solace comes from a collection of glass animals, something her mother calls the menagerie, another word for zoo. Her deafening lack of confidence paralyzes progress, but her character gleams relevance, exercising the most hope out of the trio.

Throughout the play, Tom and his mother engage in hellish banter, further cementing their toxic love/hate relationship. Tom escapes frequently to the movies to find recluse from his suffocating situation. During one scene, Tom returned from the movies, clearly having a few too many drinks, and Laura guides him onto the couch and the two joke back and forth. It was a true brother and sister moment, muted giggling as to not wake their mother.

Amanda takes a part-time job peddling magazine subscriptions to make extra money, comically soft-selling irrelevant stories to unsuspecting housewives. Bruised and battered, she refuses to relent in the delusion of her debutante status. Very aware of her debilitating social and financial standing, she presses Tom to pursue more ambitious goals to support her and Laura.

After a failed attempt to put Laura through business school, and Tom’s obvious need to break free of St. Louis, she comes to the realization that the only way Laura will flourish is if she gets married. She enlists Tom to help find Laura a ‘Gentleman Caller’. Tom agrees and finds said caller, but sets in motion a series of cataclysmic events that would forever change the family structure.

Fisher Neal gives a flawless performance as Tom, articulating his pensive nature and undying aggression towards mediocrity. Neal commands the stage, sternly showing Tom’s angry vulnerability with a fleeting allegiance to his commitments.

Lynne Winterstellar’s magical depiction as Amanda takes the audience on an uncomfortable and humorous look at the nature of a undeniably broken mother with issues beyond issues. Her ability to mix humor, strife, and motherly love was perfectly balanced and added a light-hearted tone to the heavy nature of her offspring.

Cathryn Wake as Laura haunted my being. Her true sense of misdirection and untimely manifestation of crippling anxiety tugs at the heart strings. Wake’s crackled cadence, befuddled stare, and unsettled demeanor, coupled with a debilitating physical presence that cries for humanity, makes for a gut-wrenching performance that takes your breath away.

Jordan Whalen played a masterful role as the ‘Gentleman Caller’. A misguided soul, full of bravado, Whalen shows empathy and compassion with a healthy dash of narcissism. The timely destruction of love, he wields his sword with magnificent power.

Fabulous direction provided by Pamela Berlin, with true to form scene design by Michael Schweikardt, and costume design courtesy of Suzanne Chesney. An ominous presence looms over the stage with lighting design by Rui Rita.

The Glass Menagerie is a wonderful representation of iridescent pain and anguish, reveling in the simple nature of despair. Masked with regret and humility, the cast craftily depicts the hopeless nature of their family dynamic. Broken at the seams, the fragmented nature of their expectations falter in anonymity.

The Glass Menagerie runs until November 2nd, visit PPT for more ticket information and scheduling.

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