Dysfunction reigns and happiness is fleeting within Tennessee Williams’1945 semi-autobiographical drama “The Glass Menagerie,” a powerhouse of a play currently receiving a lovely, attractively designed presentation courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company at the Loft Theatre.
Set in a St. Louis apartment in the 1930s, this potent saga of a disillusioned, regretful Southern belle stuck in the past and her two emotionally scarred children meandering in the present never fails to entice. In stark contrast to Williams’ equally marvelous “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a masterpiece primarily fueled by anger, violence and betrayal, “Glass Menagerie” mesmerizes with a gentler magnetism propelled by remarkable poetry and a powerfully relatable familial sting. As Tom Wingfield (Williams’ alter ego) looks back on his troubled life, specifically the squabbles with his overbearing mother Amanda, the overprotection given to his insecure sister Laura, and the pain of being abandoned by his father, he conjures memories which are entirely one-sided and purposefully askew. He opts for “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” because it is his most viable means of acceptance. It’s natural to suspect Tom was born to experience more than what St. Louis could offer which makes his ultimate decision to leave his family behind far from outrageous. Even so, he forever remains a prisoner of regret with no escape.
Pensively directed by Greg Hellems, the production is superbly led by Race resident artist Scott Hunt as the frustrated, soul-searching Tom. In one of his finest performances, Hunt, in his first non-musical role on the Loft stage, conveys a tremendous mastery of the text (and its beauty) along with a grounded sense of confinement and yearning which makes the character’s struggles so palpable. Race resident artist Jennifer Joplin, seen as the daughter of a political power couple in “Other Desert Cities” two seasons ago, is too young to be credible as an aging matriarch, but delivers nonetheless in terms of vigor, motherly concern and Southern charm. I would have preferred her portrayal to be more abrasively domineering (which perhaps contributes to the low-wattage electricity of her Act 1 exchanges with Hunt), but at the same rate, it’s refreshing to see this play tilt in Tom’s direction. The luminously expressive Claire Kennedy, a Wright State University alumna with numerous Race credits, dazzles as the introverted, awkward Laura whose passion for her glass menagerie is her only solace. Whether awaiting an autograph or opening a door, Kennedy fills every moment with a captivating, beguiling delicacy. In his Race debut, handsome Drew Vidal (recalling John Krasinksi of “The Office”) terrifically embodies the affable, smooth-talking Jim O’Connor (a.k.a. The Gentleman Caller), a high school alum of Tom and Laura who stops by the Wingfields for dinner only to awaken feelings within Laura she thought would never spring to life beyond her yearbook. Due to Kennedy and Vidal’s exceptional chemistry, Laura and Jim’s Act 2 heart-to-heart conversation by candlelight effortlessly evolves into the splendid centerpiece Williams intended.
Hellems’ first-rate artistic team, contributing authenticity and an evocative allure, includes scenic designer Eric Barker, costumer Ayn Kaethchen Wood, lighting designer John Rensel, composer/sound designer Jay Brunner, properties master Heather Powell, and dialect coach Deborah Thomas.
Surprisingly, “Glass Menagerie” marks the first time a play by Williams has been presented in the Race’s nearly 30-year history. Here’s hoping it will not be the last.
“The Glass Menagerie” continues through Feb. 21 in the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. Feb. 10-13, Feb. 18-20; 2 p.m. Feb. 14 and 21; and 7 p.m. Feb. 16. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 70 minutes. Tickets are $35-$50 for adults, $32-$46 for seniors, and $17.50-$25 for students. Select side-area seats available for $25 at all performances. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com. Group sales: contact Betty Gould at (937) 461-8295 or Betty.Gould@victoriatheatre.com