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The Glass Menagerie Review Thursday, May 10, Dunston Playhouse

The Glass Menagerie, directed by Adam Cook, is a classic American memory play which was written by Tennessee Williams in 1944. The State Theatre production – through its flawless display of naturalistic acting, portrays the story of an aging mother and her two adult children, who for different reasons live uneventful lives. The play is set in the Deep South of America during the late nineteen-thirties, in the City of St Louis, Missouri. The play is both well directed, well casted and is undoubtedly worth seeing. It appeals to any genuine fan of naturalistic theatre, and this particular play is arguably one of the all time greatest naturalistic works ever produced. The play’s naturalistic aspects are crucial, and evoke a strong sense of realism which only adds to the powerfulness and edginess of the performance. In an overall sense, the production of The Glass Menagerie depicts a profound sense of isolation across all aspects. The audience admires a set that has been expertly constructed, consisting of a typical depression-era American apartment and immediately suggesting a high-budget production. The set simply comes to life as soon as it is recognized by an intrigued audience. The set is reminiscent of a shallow but fulfilled American olden day apartment. The audience has an opportunity to study the set in detail as the opening scene takes place toward the back of the stage, meaning that the audience has to look over the rest of the stage before meeting with the eyes of the characters - and this perhaps was taken into account by the director whilst blocking the play. Actor Anthony Gooley is then unveiled to them, portraying the play’s main character in Tom Wingfield. Gooley hits us with a detailed and illuminating monologue to set the scene, mentioning his current family’s set-up and their past. The audience are then made aware to the fact that the Wingfield father is no longer a part of their family. Instead, it’s a family consisting of middle-aged Tom, his elderly mother Amanda (Deirdre Rubenstein) and younger sister Laura (Kate Cheel). Tom is a frustrated, lowly payed warehouse worker, but is heavily relied on by both his mother and younger sister. As none of the characters seem to ever show a sense of physical embracement, which is normal for a family, the audience can relate specifically to how they are enormously and frustratingly isolated - which is perhaps the intention of the director. Gooley is astoundingly convincing as he portrays the character of Tom Wingfield. He’s helped by the indispensably designed set which acted as the lion’s den to an implausibly, luminously executed exhibition of unblemished naturalism. A glass menagerie exists in the Dunston House theatre as an actual prop which is installed in the set, and placed purposely and awkwardly on the very edge of the stage. This is done to highlight how brittle and flimsy

the character of Laura is, who continuously reverts to her glass menagerie, her ideal, fantasy-filled world of glass figurines in which ‘the unicorn’ is her stand-out favourite. The set is largely, uniquely built and appears to have pieces flying out from its top; it is far from ordinary but still within the realms of something that looks like an apartment block. All in all, it is terrifically constructed and is highly captivating, concurring accurately with the five-star display of the show. The set is perhaps representative of the Wingfield family being so confined within their own lives and within each other’s lives and this further depicts the concept of isolation. The set is overwhelmingly large in diameter and yet most of the play's action takes place in only the living room. There is little intimacy from within the set's construction and how it is utilized by the actors. Actress Deirdre Rubenstein, playing the rather authentic old Southerner woman, Amanda, is impressively stark in her portrayal, and is costumed accurately. Costumes are spot-on for the entire cast and represent what a family at the time would have worn. Rubenstein is dressed in traditional house wear type gowns. Cheel, playing Laura, wears a sparky pink skirt and top with an amiable knit and pair of heels. Gooley wears a white workman’s shirt, tie, vest and pants, and English, playing the gentleman caller, wears a striking, lined suit. These costumes are all highly suitable to a play which is curbed in its theatrical blocking and more reliant on dialogue to convey the play’s storyline. The characters all share completely different sorts of costume - which further epitomizes, perhaps metaphorically, how isolated the characters are within the clasps of the story. Soon enough, we see Laura and the gentleman caller have their predictable moment of closeness after the characters of Tom and Amanda flee the stage subtly. Laura, in her fragile posture, shares a delicate moment with the gentleman caller, as they begin to share stories from their high-school days spent together. At this point, there is a blackout (in the story) and lighting designer Mark Pennington does a superb job of conveying this through his design. His design collaborates with the set at times to drive the aspects of melancholy and memories; subdued and eerie flickers of light gently pulse onto the steadily poised actors, adding an artificial, further source of prosperity to the rich display of naturalism and realism that is on show, that is The Glass Menagerie. The performance ends on a rather sour note in terms of its storyline; however that is something that needs to be taken up with Tennessee Williams (if he were still here with us). Fault not the acting, directing or artistic design that is expressed in this magnum opus. This work of art would gleam as a breath of fresh air to Stanislavsky if he were to ever spend a moment outside of his coffin.