Blog Review: Powerful Tennessee Williams’ play hits the stage in Tucson

Review: Powerful Tennessee Williams’ play hits the stage in Tucson

By Kathy Allen. Originally published by the Arizona Daily Star.

The Wingfield family is back.

And you do not want to miss a visit with them.

The Wingfields are the dysfunctional clan at the center of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” currently on stage at the Arizona Theatre Company.

Williams’ 1944 play, which has been on ATC’s stage twice before, is largely autobiographical. Hope and hopelessness fiercely hold hands in this tight and powerful production, directed by Chanel Bragg.

Tom Wingfield, poetic and trapped in a job he hates, dips back into his memory to tell us about his much-loved sister, Laura, painfully shy and with a pronounced limp, and overbearing mother, Amanda. The father in the family abandoned them years before, and the three live in a run-down tenement in St. Louis. It is the Great Depression and the Wingfields struggle financially.

But Amanda, a faded Southern Belle who lives largely in her memories of when her dance card was full and she was in demand, has an idea that will save them: Tom must bring home a gentleman caller for Laura. Her daughter’s marriage will give them the security they need.

Laura is not interested; she would much rather spend time with the delicate glass figurines she collects. Tom longs to break free of his mother, the confines of the shoe factory he works in, and St. Louis.

Bragg, ATC’s associate artistic director, directed “Menagerie” with a knowing and gentle hand; she made sure Williams’ powerful language, and heart-breaking story came to vivid life, and that the humor, so necessary in this play, was never lost.

And she had a cast that delivered. Lillie Richardson nailed the histrionics, desperation and nagging that define Amanda. While the mother is grating, she is also deeply sad and Richardson made sure we saw both sides.

Aaron Cammack gave us a brooding Tom whose longing for a different life was palpable, and Michelle Chin’s Laura was as fragile as the character’s glass collection.

All three of these actors are from Arizona, and they are proof that the state is bursting with talent.

Paul Deo Jr., who hails from New York, gave the Gentleman Caller just the right amount of earnestness.

Another character in this play is the apartment, run-down but serviceable, with its only access a fire escape and with a neon sign that blasts out “Paradise,” the name of the dance hall across the alley. It looked as though scenic designer Josafath Reynoso picked up an apartment out of Depression-era St. Louis and plopped it onto the ATC stage.

The Kish Finnegan-designed costumes brought us back in time and helped define the characters. And she deserves some kind of award for the ridiculously ruffled dress Amanda pulled out of her trunk and wore to entertain Laura’s Gentleman Caller.

“Menagerie” is one of the best plays of the last century. It is timeless and tragic, funny and thoughtful. This ATC production reminds us why a visit with the Wingfields will never get old.