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Innovative Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie Directed by Sonya Rasminsky At the Loeb X Through October 5

By Amanda Schaffer

To the backdrop of "hot swing music and liquor...and movies," the Working Title Repertory Company has presented a remarkable production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Innovative direction and unusually intense acting combine to create a successful experimental staging of this classic.

This play traces the relationships between a Southern belle mother, Amanda Wingfield (Jacqueline Jourdain Hayes); her son Tom (Peter Mitchell), a poet starved for adventure; and her daughter Laura (Jeanne Simpson), a painfully shy cripple. Throughout the play, Ms. Wingfield battles Laura's shyness and conspires to introduce her daughter to a "gentleman caller."

From the opening moments, the audience is struck by Simpson's convincing limp and fearful apologetic manner. Her dreamy, distracted gaze is both believable and endearing. And when she slouches pigeon-toed, unaware of her wrinkled sweater and bunched stockings, the viewer is convinced that Laura has escaped into a world of her own.

While Simpson draws the audience into her character's private world, Mitchell artfully savages the outside world. His tirade on his job at the continental shoemakers' warehouse--"You think I want to spend 55 years down there in that celotex interior with fluorescent tubes!" --is one of the high points of the show.

Another highlight is Hayes's speech about the "gentleman callers" of her youth: the boy that "every girl in the Delta had set her cap for" and the boy who "carried [her] picture on him the night he died." Wingfield's flirtation with the gentleman caller, Jim O'Connor (Glenn Kessler), and his continual open-mouthed inability to get a word in, are also exceptional.

In the final scenes of the play, director Sonya Rasminsky skillfully contrasts Laura's shyness with her mother's overbearing small talk. While Laura becomes ill at the thought of social interaction, Ma Wingfield rambles, "Light clothes an' light food are what warm weather calls fo'. You know our blood gets so thick during th' winter, it takes a while fo' us to adjust ou'selves."

In addition, Rasminsky's attention to detail adds depth to her characterizations. She has Laura stumble against a chair while crossing the stage and Ms. Wingfield brush Tom's cowlick in the middle of an argument.

Rasminsky also uses creative blocking, facing two characters in opposite directions to stare at the moon. Such techniques overcome the traditional problems associated with theater in the round, enabling various sections of the audience to face the action at the same time.

The box-like frame created by Set Designer Tom Gluck is similarly well-suited to this type of theater. Also, the set contributes to our notion that the characters are trapped in a tenement life.

Throughout the play, memories, movies and glass ornaments enable these characters briefly to escape the poverty and tedium of their lives. And the fanastic acting and direction associated with The Glass Menagerie allow the audience to escape with them.

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