Tennessee Williams is one of the most produced yet least understood of American playwrights. The Glass Menagerie is so frequently butchered that any news of it brings more despair than anticipation. In fact, it really should be banned from the stage—if it weren't for the fact that, every once in awhile, a Menagerie comes along that is well conceived, cohesive and sensitively directed.
Like all Williams' plays, this one revolves around desperate people in tragic circumstances. Yet it contains a delicate humor that is easily lost in more ham-handed productions. Mark Fossen's direction sets a deliberate pace, allowing the drama to unfold methodically without succumbing to bathos.
Jayne Luke turns in a bravura performance as Amanda, a faded Southern belle deeply concerned about the prospects of her children. Laura (Lauren Noll) is a hypersensitive 23-year-old with a limp and no marketable skills, whereas Tom (John Graham) leads an exotic double life, disappearing to parts unknown each night with the unbelievable excuse of going to the movies. What's a mother to do? Amanda's solution, of course, is to marry Laura off as quickly as possible—perhaps to Tom's workmate Jim (Matt Whittaker).
Noll brings an unexpected, quiet strength to Laura, not often seen. Whittaker's performance as Laura's glad-handing high school crush is expertly modulated, without overpowering the rest of the cast. Graham is heartbreakingly introspective and highly aware of his character's autobiographical status.
Spencer Brown's kaleidoscopic projective lighting design is subtle enough to evoke images central to the narrative without succumbing to frenetic post-modernism.
The Grand Theatre's production is remarkable and multilayered enough that we are reminded of what made Williams such a genius in the first place.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
The Grand Theatre
Salt Lake Community College south campus
1575 S. State
Through Feb. 5