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Theater Review: “The Glass Menagerie”

“The Glass Menagerie” plays through March 22, 2020 at The Broadway Theater, 340 East Broadway, Vista.
Photo credit:
The Broadway Theater

Update: this show has been postponed.

Sometimes reality is so ugly and painful that it inspires retreat into a world of illusion. Playwright Tennessee Williams depicts a family that did just that in his 1961 “The Glass Menagerie,” based in part on his own family. “Menagerie” remains one of Williams’ greatest hits and most frequently performed works.

Vista’s frisky little Broadway Theater has taken on this behemoth of a play, which runs through March 22, directed by Randall Hickman.

The theater advertises that they’re presenting it “with a twist.” One glance at the off-kilter set – with a front door that’s cut diagonally and the door to the outside walkway equally cockeyed – tells you (at the least) that this situation is a bit out of the ordinary.

Amanda Wingfield (Terri Park), an aging Southern belle, lost her husband, a telephone repairman, years ago when he “fell in love with long distance” and left.

Amanda, who can still turn on that Southern charm at will, reminisces about having “17 gentleman callers” in one evening. She is now obsessed with finding a few for her daughter Laura, who is nothing like her mother.

Laura (Marisa Taylor Scott) is 23, has a slight limp and suffers from extreme shyness, which destroyed her self-confidence to the extent that she dropped out of high school. She has retreated into a private world of glass figurines and old 78 records. Her lovingly tended figurine collection is mounted on the wall.

An old manual typewriter (this is set in 1937 St. Louis) is not used by Tom, as in other productions. Instead, Laura sits there, apparently to convince Amanda that she’s doing her homework for the business school Amanda signed her up for. What Amanda will soon find out is that Laura was frightened by the class and has not been attending at all, instead walking around the town during class hours.

Laura’s younger brother Tom (Tim Baran) is torn between familial duty and his own dreams. He likes to write poetry and longs for travel and adventure, but instead grudgingly supports the family with a boring dead-end job at a warehouse. His escape is movies – where he goes every night – and drink.

Tom acts as narrator of this “memory play” telling us at the top that “I give you truth in the pleasant guise of illusion. It is sentimental. It is not realistic.”

The Wingfield family is drowning in disappointment, relieved at least briefly when Tom accedes to Amanda’s request to bring home “a nice boy” (i.e., a gentleman caller) from the warehouse for Laura, and he happens to bring Jim (Nathan Wetter) –  the one boy Laura had a high-school crush on.

Wetter brings a breath of fresh air as the caller who is not constrained by this family’s history, but has not only energy but plans to improve his life.  Can his upbeat optimism change the Wingfield family downward trajectory?

Terri Park’s Amanda is perfect – charming, annoying, pathetic and bullying in turn, and insisting that all of it is necessary and even for a good cause.

Marisa Taylor Scott’s fearful Laura and Tim Baran’s ready-to-explode Tom couldn’t be more different from their mother, or from each other. Scott inspires compassion with her fine portrayal of the fearful and lonely Laura, and Baran’s Tom communicates well the feeling that he’s a caged bird, scratching to be released from the bars that keep him tied to this place and family.

“The Glass Menagerie” is no comedy, but it has endeared itself to generations of theatergoers with lines like this: “In Spain there was Guernica. But here there was only hot swing music and liquor, dance halls, bars and movies, and sex that hung in the gloom like a chandelier and flooded the world with brief, deceptive rainbows.”

The details

“The Glass Menagerie” plays through March 22, 2020 at The Broadway Theater, 340 East Broadway, Vista.

Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 2 pm