THE LOWE DOWN | By Jim Lowe
How often does an audience respond with nearly a minute of silence to the closing scene of well-known play, followed by applause building to a standing ovation?
That’s precisely what happened Friday at the opening night of the Weston Playhouse production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” And given the beauty, power and humanity of the performance, the response was entirely appropriate.
What made the production successful was delivering the humanity of its characters lovingly. “The Glass Menagerie,” which premiered in Chicago in 1944, and on Broadway in 1945, catapulted from obscurity to Williams to fame.
This “memory play,” narrated by Tom, a poet wannabe working in a warehouse, encapsulates the unrewarded yearnings of three, maybe four, people, leaving them not with success, but perhaps hope.
Living in genteel poverty with his aging Southern belle mother and his emotionally crippled sister, Tom wants to leave — but not, his mother insists, until he finds a husband for his sister.
Amanda Wingfield, left 16 years earlier by her charming husband, seems to be living with her two forgotten children. But, in fact, she is desperately afraid for her daughter Laura who, in addition to a having slight limp, is so shy that she cannot function with people outside the family. Only Tom seems normal, but he needs to escape daily to “the movies.”
Tom finally acquiesces and brings home a friend, Jim O’Connor, to dinner to meet the family — and, unknown to Jim, Laura. What ensues is totally unexpected, a disaster — or is it?
This is a tender story told beautifully in the Weston production. Director Kristen Coury has achieved this most delicate storytelling about its delicate characters by, thanks in part to an excellent cast, delivering the dimension of all four characters sympathetically.
As we end up understanding each of them, there is no tragedy.
Amy Van Nostrand as Amanda Wingfield was the truly impoverished Southern grand dame, masking her desperation with Southern gentility of a bygone era. Yet, in Van Nostrand’s performance, Amanda’s passion for her children always simmers underneath her sometimes crusty exterior.
Eric Gilde’s Tom seems straightforward enough — he wants to leave — but Gilde’s performance subtly reveals Tom’s emotional dependence on his mother and his deep connection to his sister.
Ben Jacoby gives Jim dimension as the fallen high school star who is trying to talk himself into new success, yet his own failures are what have given him true compassion.
Perhaps the most pivotal role, though, is Laura. Often given monochromatic performances as the “poor little cripple girl,” Andrea Lynn Green began that way, but with Jim’s gentle coaching, blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Green’s performance was at once heart-wrenching and heartwarming.
Despite a few unfocused moments by Gilde and Green, the ensemble was seamless and the effect powerful and beautiful.
The physical production thoroughly complemented the excellent acting, with an imaginative set by Daniel Conway and lighting by Jiyoun Chang that gave the mix of apartment and fire escape the atmosphere of reality and dream simultaneously.
Kirsch Leigh Zeile’s period costumes were beautiful, and Christopher Collucci supported and punctuated the stage action with the subtle sound design and music.
While many productions of “The Glass Menagerie” are often dreary, Weston’s sparkled gently and beautifully — like Laura’s glass unicorn
Weston’s “The Glass Menagerie,” after its Sept. 11 Flynn performance, will move to Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, Fla., where Coury is artistic director.
The production also launches Weston’s five-year American Masters series, an initiative dedicated to bringing classics of American drama to Weston’s stage with artists of national stature.
Each American Masters production includes daytime school performances and an appearance at Burlington’s Flynn Center, allowing the company to reach a statewide audience.
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents “The Glass Menagerie” Aug. 27-Sep. 5 at the Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St. in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, plus 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets are $25-$52; call 824-5288, or go online to westonplayhouse.org. “The Glass Menagerie” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11, at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, $32-$45; call 863-5966, or go online to www.flynncenter.org.