The manufacture of illusions in the main occupation of the characters in Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie, who spend their coffin-like existence waiting for the fortune that lies beyond "deceptive rainbows." In the world of the play, icy and sterile as glass, time is stagnant, and escape from the past requires an effort of will impossible for the fearful and freakish. They are a diseased family, the Wingfields, and the illusions that both protect and trap them are like the animals in the glass menagerie, all too brittle and transparent, shattering painfully at their first contact with an "emissary from the world of the real."
How painful this shattering turns out to be--how much impact The Glass Menagerie retains as a drama--depends on the audience's simultaneous identification with the Wingfield's aspirations and its acceptance of the tragic perspective provided by the narrator. The current Loeb Ex production, despite its flaws, ultimately succeeds in eliciting this subtly balanced reaction.
The pace of this Menagerie, directed by Robert Lisack, is slow at first, its tone somber almost to the point of dreariness. What sustains the show, until the superb climactic scene, is the generally high caliber of the acting. Bonnie DeLorme as Amanda is a classically stifling mother. Both harridan and guardian, she pines over her lost youth as a southern belle and happily nurses the memory of the day she entertained 17 gentleman callers. DeLorme's gestures are a bit awkward at times, but her lips, pouting or trembling, and her eyes, gazing into the past or seeing a future in its image, are wonderfully expressive.
Dan O'Neill's Tom, the son anxious to change his dreary warehouse hob for the life of adventure his father chose long ago, broods like a trapped animal. Alternately raging at his mother and commenting sorrowfully on the action, O'Neill delivers an often powerful performance. He is especially effective in the latter role, although his Scottish brogue interferes mightily with his attempts at a southern accent.
The final member of the Wingfield clan is the timid, waif-like Laura, whose face is often blank, but whose eyes are as innocent and easily frightened as a deer's. In the first act, Muffie Meyers acts a Laura too withdrawn to be more than pitiful as she caresses her glass animals, but as the play wears on she wins our fuller sympathy.
If this production succeeds, however, much of the credit belongs to O.C. Walker, who plays Jim O'Connor, the emissary from reality who is Laura's long-hoped for gentleman caller. Unlike O'Neill and DeLorme, who are occasionally stagy, Walker is totally convincing as the "deceptive rainbow" in whose person seems to lurk the treasure trove with which the Wingfields plan to buy escape. O'Connor's scene with Laura, the climax of the play, is by far the best in this production.
The world of The Glass Menagerie is haunted by three dreamers locked together in a nightmarish existence. While one bemoans the horrors of a past which "turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it," another cynically observes the difficulty of averting any such horrors by mere planning. It is the mood of hopelessness, of pervasive melancholy, embodied in this dilemma which is captured and preserved in the Loeb production.