Vermont Stage Company has opened their season with a lovely production of Tennessee Williams’ delicate memory play, THE GLASS MENAGERIE. A semi-autobiographical account of the playwright’s early years, the play tells the story of Tom, who is also the narrator, Amanda, his sometimes domineering mother and Laura, his damaged sister. To quote Director Mark Nash, “. . . it’s about members of a family trying to connect with one another. They often fail miserably . . .[but] they are each motivated by love.”
The set designed by Jenny Fulton is remarkably spacious for the FlynnSpace. With the playing space three-quarter round, it features a raised dining area, fronted by an archway leading to the living area. There’s also a small outdoor area. Tom’s daybed has a terrific chenille bedspread, changed in Act II for more elegant satin. Act II also features and elegant lace tablecloth and lace curtain in the archway. The only false note is the gaudy partial slipcover on the armchair – it’s too much, even for Amanda.
Miss Fulton is also responsible for the excellent costumes. I especially liked the Act II dresses. The lighting by John Forbes is gentle and atmospheric, while Joel Abbott’s music choices and sound are fine, in particular the striking clock.
This is a strong and balanced cast. As Tom, Craig Maravich does a nice job, especially with the monologues. Benjamin Wiggins is equally good as Jim, the “gentleman caller.” His is a well-rounded and believable performance, especially his scene with Laura.
Speaking of Laura, Molly Walsh gives a beautifully subtle and often heartbreaking performance. She even allows us to see a tiny bit of the sparkle she inherited from her mother.
Donna Wandrey makes an excellent Amanda, creating a three-dimensional character that is by turns irritating and touching. Her efforts to help and encourage her children, although often misguided, are sometimes funny and sometimes painful to watch.
One of the terrific features of Mark Nash’s fine direction is that he’s found the humor in the play, which is often neglected. His staging is fluid and I especially liked the touch of Tom’s pre-show action. My one quibble is about the smoking – either do it or cut it. It’s pretty standard these days to use herbal cigarettes along with a program note. However to use real cigarettes and matches with the actors pretending to light up and smoke seems stagy and is distracting.
Other than that, Mr. Nash and his cast draw us into the world of the play. They have brought out the nuances of these complex and all too human characters. To use the Tennessee Williams quote from the program, “What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh no, it’s curved like a road through the mountains.”
On a scale of one to five the Vermont Stage Company production of THE GLASS MENAGERIE gets four and seven-eighths ferry boats. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.