For some, memories can bring about positive thoughts. But for Tom Wingfield, one of the main characters in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, memories act as cannonballs strapped to his ankles as he strives to advance in life. The American Repertory Theatre’s The Glass Menagerie fed its audience with an abundance of profound symbolism. Viewers left the Loeb Drama Centre with thematic questions lingering in their heads.
Situated in a dingy apartment in St. Louis during the Great Depression, Tom narrates his memories — the parts of his past when he lived with his garrulous mother, Amanda (Cherry Jones), and his crippled and shy sister, Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger). All three Wingfields are escapists, repeating their own daily routines to detach themselves from reality and to burrow themselves in their own imaginations. Eventually, Tom flees from his family, in hopes of freeing himself from torment, but his selfish decision haunts him.
The play mixes seriousness with humor. Amanda’s obsession with molding her daughter into a graceful bachelorette, for example, was deplorable yet amusing. Jone’s phenomenal ability to deliver the mother’s witty and sarcastic comments to her children provides lightheartedness to the play. And Zachary Quinto’s depiction of Tom — the struggling writer who displays a perplexing combination of concern and cruelty for his mother and sister — also drew chuckles from the audience when he turns completely nonsensical, stumbling around drunk, mumbling about magic.
Quinto delivered more than just laughs, however, outstandingly embodying Tom’s myriad of emotions: Bitterness when squabbling with his mother, remorse when deserting his family and even compassion when discussing Laura’s condition with his mother.
The production’s lighting further illuminated the play of emotion in Williams’ narrative — lighting designer Natasha Katz placed immense significance in the details of lights and shadow that swept across the stage. When Tom opens the performance, he stares off into space and reflects on his former life, and the distorted lights transport the audience back in time with him, and the play closed with a light-conscious finish when the stage lights died and only candles illuminated Tom’s face before fading into darkness.
Between the open and close, the action takes place only in a dreary St. Louis apartment — the only place where Tom’s memory takes him. Set designer Bob Crowley structured the room with a simplistic yet crafty layout. The audience is reminded of the Wingfield trio’s inescapable fate, especially through the spiraling staircase that leads to nothingness. The glistening black water surrounding the actors, and the small, crescent moon that the characters desperately wish on for fortune and success in the future further add to the theme.
Memories may or may not be agonizing, but certainly they permeate. The production of this memory-brought-to-stage ensured that Williams’ story won’t be soon forgotten.
The American Repertory Theatre’s next show, Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage, will begin on April 16 at the OBERON.