Williams’s shattering Menagerie in Freeport

Fragile suffering
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  February 22, 2012

WRENCHING ACHE Freeport Factory stages a Williams classic.

Tom's restlessness at home in St. Louis, where he's stuck providing for his plaintive mom and crippled sister, becomes particularly oppressive in the very architecture of the Freeport Factory Stage: Its intimate, low-ceilinged, three-quarter-round black box lets the audience surround the threadbare home of the Wingfields, and brings us close enough to almost feel Tom's frustrated heat. His suffocation — and his memory of it — are physically tangible in Freeport Factory Stage's production of Tennessee Williams's wistful classic, The Glass Menagerie, directed by Jeri Pitcher.

In Freeport's production, the haunted and lyrical narrator is in the hands of Jonathan Guimont, a fine and versatile actor. His Tom revels in his words, like any fervid writer, and there's a certain theatrical self-awareness in his monologues as he lights up a smoke and peers into the dim-lit memory of his life with Amanda (Julie George-Carlson) and shy sister Laura (Elizabeth Somerville). As he slips himself back into the household, a stream of Amanda's reproaches and nostalgia for her old Southern beaux, Tom's deadpan sarcasm yields nicely to his rages, and I particularly love his drunken scene of returning from the movies, describing magicians turning wine to whiskey with careening, rhapsodic fluency. But he's at his most affecting when he reveals his profound concern for Laura — for example, when his wrath sends her glass animals tumbling, and Guimont's face gapes with aching, undisguised guilt.

As this delicate keeper of the menagerie, Somerville is lovely, with creamy skin and dark, silken hair. She is a study in softness. Fragile, however, she is often not. In her scenes with the family, the strength of her voice and gaze seem to belie the shy strangeness that Tom and Amanda attribute to her. She often doesn't flinch enough from scrutiny. However, Somerville does have some beautiful and exquisitely lit scenes alone with her menagerie (Eric Sawyer's fine lighting design), with the glass creatures throwing the light up to her gently joyful face, and her fragility does emerge dramatically once the Gentleman Caller (David Currier) enters the household.

Currier is excellent as the industrious, clueless but good-willed EveryAmerican outsider to the Wingfield's insanity — nodding carefully, rubbing his knees, and making wide awkward eyes at Amanda's every frenzied excess of hospitality — and these scenes are among the best in the production. Laura is crushed like a moth at a smile from him, and later, in the climactic, candle-lit scene after dinner, she stiffens then opens beautifully when the two of them, left alone, sit together on the floor (though the scene is staged awkwardly at first, with Laura's back to the center audience). Currier's Caller is near perfectly pitched: dense but likeable, and self-involved yet attentive, and his fleeting bewitchment by Laura is expertly, heartwrenchingly drawn.

That bewitchment over almost as soon as it's happened, it is Amanda's disappointment that is the most crushing. In George-Carlson's hands, with her sad, frumpy ringlets, Freeport Factory's Amanda is particularly haggard and particularly reasonable. Her flights of nostalgia are shrill and maddening, but she's most viscerally emotional about her (quite justified) concerns for her daughter's future. I've seen productions in which Amanda is a lot more wildly intolerable; here she is more sympathetic. The mother's pathos helps emphasize all that Tom abdicates in his eventual flight, and deepens the hue, years later, of his haunting.

Megan Grumbling can be reached at mgrumbling@hotmail.com.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE | by Tennessee Williams | Directed by Jeri Pitcher | Produced by the Freeport Factory Stage | through February 26 | 207.865.5505

Related: Classic drama, Review: Tennessee Williams's self-indulgent Vieux Carré, A.R.T. frees The Glass Menagerie, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Tennessee Williams, Jeri Pitcher, David Currier,  More more >
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