Beautiful reimagining of a classic
By Bradley Storer
The Glass Menagerie, the first great success of legendary American playwright Tennessee Williams, is a curious thing – not entirely a traditional naturalistic play nor an abstract lyrical Symbolist piece, it lives in the blurry division between fantasy, reality and memory. Director Eamon Flack emphasizes this essential ambiguity from the outset, as narrator Tom Wingfield (Luke Mullins) enters casually through the audience and seemingly begins to construct the play both physically and textually before our very eyes in his opening monologue.
The multifaceted set designed by Michael Hankin, the tiny Wingfield family apartment that unfolds in continually surprising ways, is surrounded by cameras (with video design by Sean Bacon) that project images onto near by screens as the play unfurls, creating delectable moments of intimacy with the characters and thrilling moments of theatrical ingenuity at the same time it theatricalizes and distances these moments as though we are seeing scenes from an old Hollywood picture – further suggesting the way Tom has shaped and crafted his memories until the line between his nostalgic remembrance and the reality has disappeared completely.
Mullins as Wingfield is remarkable, combining the soul of a poet with a bitter and sardonic twist of humour that one senses is the result of a sensitive spirit yearning for the freedom his home life denies him. Pamela Rabe as his mother Amanda, one of the great Southern belles of the Williams canon, gives a truly titanic performance, moving from a shrewd no-nonsense woman beaten down by the harsh realities of her life to the winsome love-struck girl of her youth with ease in the space of a single scene, creating a portrait of a woman burdened by both her massive maternal love and the seething resentment underneath. Rose Riley as Laura, Tom’s shy and disabled sister, brings a surprising and refreshing tom-boyishness to the role, and when her closed-off but scintillating face is projected in big screen, it is easy to see why Laura is the heart (and the central mystery) of this nostalgic play.
The first act is close to perfection, but the second act where the lives of the Wingfelds is interrupted by the visit of a gentleman caller (a jovial Harry Greenwood) seems to get a bit lost, and the final moments of the play fail to bring together the wide-ranging resources used throughout into a satisfying conclusion. But when this production succeeds, which it often does, those moments are truly magical.
Venue: Malthouse Theatre, Merlyn Theatre, 113 Sturt St
Dates: 18th May – 5th June
Times: Tuesday 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday 1pm, Sunday 5pm
Prices: Adult $65, Concession $50, Senior $60, Tertiary Student and Under 30’s $35
Image by Pia Johnson, Malthouse and Belvoir