Perhaps because of its accessibility and the universal emotions it portrays, "The Glass Menagerie" by the late Tennessee Williams is required reading in the nation's classrooms, and one of his most produced plays. Another production of Williams' "memory play," in which "time is the longest distance between two places," may seem superfluous.
But reading this play is decidedly not the same as seeing it--you can't read, for example, the secret smiles shared by Tom and Laura Wingfield behind mother Amanda's back. Source Theatre's fine production, at the Main Stage, brings up echoes of familiar familial pains and passions.
Bart Whiteman's deft direction shows an attention to detail, capturing the tensions and frustrations Williams portrayed without losing sight of his finely wrought humor.
Source's quartet of actors is competent, but the two actresses are the ones you'll remember. Beverly Brigham Bowman is a properly smothering, oblivious Amanda, comical and horrifying. Blathering at breakneck speed about her Southern girlhood, or her concerns for Tom and Laura, Bowman has a natural way of breaking her sentences or running them together.
Kathryn Kelley is a frail, heartbreaking Laura, saying much about Laura's past with darting glances and a timorous voice without resorting to obvious tics or overemphasizing Laura's slight limp. Kelley is luminous in a tender late-night scene with Tom, who has stumbled in drunk after an evening "at the movies," and in another scene while silently watching as the family eats dinner.
Steven Dawn, last seen at Source in "Bent," gives an uneven performance as Tom Wingfield, the dreamer who feels condemned to a job in a workaday warehouse. Tom's frustrated sensibility and his lifesaving sense of humor are seen in Dawn's sad-eyed face. There is a nice interplay of tempos between Bowman's breathless Amanda and Dawn's measured but quick-witted Tom. But Dawn stumbles when called on to narrate with an overly intense stare and some clumsy business with cigarettes, which distracts from Williams' poetic framing.
T.J. Edwards is extraordinarily ordinary as Jim O'Connor, the gentleman caller who represents, in Tom's words, "the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for." It's a difficult role, the man who unconsciously becomes the catalyst for the fantasies of all three Wingfields, and who has himself never lived up to his hype in the high school yearbook. In the difficult, delicate scene with Laura after dinner, both actors admirably convey Williams' eloquently awkward dialogue.
Steve Siegel's set is evocative of a 1930s St. Louis tenement, with its suspended fragments of fire escape, shadowy shapes on the wall and the faded rose-patterned sofa and rug, and the subdued period music and muted lighting by Whiteman and Siegel, all of which underscore the narrator's words about memory: "It is not realistic . . . in memory, everything seems to happen to music."
The theater's small size helps in this case, bringing the audience into the tiny apartment. The audience's proximity has another benefit--with every whisper perfectly audible, there is no need for stagey, strident projection, and the dynamics within scenes are felt more strongly. THE GLASS MENAGERIE. By Tennessee Williams. Directed by Bart Whiteman. Settings, Steve Siegel; lighting, Bart Whiteman and Steve Siegel; sound, Eric Annis; costumes, Hayley Hoffman. With Steven Dawn, Beverly Brigham Bowman, Kathryn Kelley, T.J. Edwards. At the Source Theatre Main Stage through Sept. 17.