The Glass Menagerie

A spectacular cast and an inspired lighting design elevate a simple, emotional story

By Rev. Adam McKinney on February 22, 2018

Without putting too fine a point on it, Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is about the past, present and future: regrets about the past, anxiety about the future, and being petrified in the present. Those are the themes explored in a play about a mother and her two children, but the metafictional theme is one of memory, which our narrator tells us at the beginning. Tom Wingfield, an analog for Williams, greets the audience and lets us know that this recounting of a pivotal moment in his family's life is being told with the hazy embellishments of memory, with music and lighting being a bit softer and gauzier than they were in real life.

Lakewood Playhouse's production of The Glass Menagerie is a spare piece of theater, featuring three main characters (and a fourth who comes in later), but it feels larger, with sound and lighting design taking on a life of their own. The story: Tom Wingfield (Niclas Olsen) is the frustrated poet tasked with being the breadwinner for mother Amanda (Dayna Childs) and sister Laura (Jess Weaver). Years ago, the husband and father of the Wingfield family abruptly abandoned them, leaving a bitter, aimless hole in his absence. Amanda finds meaning in reliving the glory days of her youth, and pushing the shy, delicate Laura to either find a husband or get a job. Eventually, a gentleman caller named O'Connor (Nick Fitzgerald) will come to dinner and make everything complicated.

First and foremost, the offstage stars are the lighting and sound design, as conducted by Aaron Mohs-Hale and John Munn, respectively. As I said earlier, Tom engages directly with the audience, calling attention to its theatrical nature, and setting expectations for the ambience. Throughout the show, Tom will lurk in the background, guiding music and dimming lights with a wave of his hand. While this technical prowess is all very impressive, The Glass Menagerie would crumble without a strong core of actors; this production, thankfully, has no weak spots in that category.

Olsen makes the first big impression, bouncing back and forth between a wry narrator in the future, and an impassioned young man in the narrative. Childs maybe has the second most difficult role, with her genteel, loquacious mother delivering paragraphs of dialogue, and her balancing notes of overbearing and worrywart doting. As Laura, Weaver walks a tightrope, having to play a character with both a physical and mental disability, and not make it overly showy. Micheal O'Hara has directed a fantastic crew of actors who all nail the particular difficulties given to them by the verbose and evocative script by Williams. Fitzgerald, coming in at the end, more than holds his own in a role that could easily upend the play if done poorly.

There's very little to object to in The Glass Menagerie. It must be said, though, that it is a bit long; for a story as simple as this, two-and-a-half hours (plus intermission) is pushing it. Still, it never felt as long as it was, and the wistful emotion it evokes is enough to keep one entirely invested.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through March 11, $20-$26, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. SW, 253.588.0042,