Broken Glass

There are a few cracks in Biddeford City Theater's production
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  October 17, 2007
GOSSAMER CONNECTIONS: Between characters.

The Glass Menagerie | by Tennessee Williams | Direction and Scenic Design by Christopher Price | Produced by Biddeford City Theater | through October 20 | 207.282.0849
“The scene is memory,” Tennessee Williams writes in his opening notes to The Glass Menagerie, and then: “Memory takes a lot of poetic licence.” On director and scenic designer Christopher Price’s beautiful stage, the liberties of nostalgia and guilt make a delicate but charged birdcage of what Tom Wingfield (Seth Dube) remembers most painfully: the scene of his family’s St. Louis apartment. Behind a round platform, gray filaments of grid curve about the Wingfields’ rooms. Just behind and through these simple lines, a whorled web of deep, purply gray appears and fades as Tom’s memory surges. Price’s Biddeford City Theater production holds a lovely visual fidelity to Williams’s call.

Smoking on the fire escape just outside the apartment, young Tom, a restless poet with a warehouse job, talks us through the weights of his past: the demands of his desperately vivacious, faded Southern-belle mother Amanda (the fine Gwyneth Jones Nicholson); the shyness of his fragile, crippled sister Laura (Andrea Lopez); the ingratiating smile of his long-absent father in portrait (beautifully lit and withdrawn by turns on a framed scrim center-stage). Amanda wants a lot from Tom — stability, refined Southern manners, and a suitor for his helpless older sister, whose only friends are in her collection of tiny glass creatures.

As for Tom, there are two of him: the Tom of his own memory, part of this sad, isolated household but already halfway out the door; and the Tom of later, after he’s flown. The distinction between them could use some more exploration in Dube’s portrayal. There is a flatness to Tom the narrator that is sometimes appropriate to his jaded remorse, but often begs to be tempered with a little lyricism, with the sway of memory’s ache. This is a poet, after all, given — as he tells us early on — to symbols and illusions. Tom the narrator recalls those days in St. Louis — while Spain had Guernica, his city had only the tango dancers embracing across the alley at the Paradise Dance Hall, the hot swing music, the “sex that hung in the room like a chandelier.” There is bitterness and age in his remembrance, but there is also sensuality, nostalgia, a pang, and we should hear more of this in his fire-escape monologues.

Dube does better with the Tom of memory, the younger and more desperate Tom entrenched in the family birdcage. This is especially true as Tom gets angrier, more sarcastic, and more aggressive, and Dube also has some corporeal strengths. He and Lopez are similarly thin of frame, but physically inhabit their characters to excellent contrast: In Dube’s lanky limbs is an animal restlessness, a potential energy stalking around and itching to be made manifest, while Lopez’s slim Laura (buried in the shapeless blues and greens of Wendy Poole’s smart costume design) is all reticence, slight and subdued.

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