Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is not easy theater. The play forces its audience members to step into a family life so intimate and revealing that it can shed light on our own situations we might not be comfortable examining. It is easy to draw comparisons to one's own familial relationships and either find ourselves lucky, or in a similar boat. Since the show itself is mostly auto-biographical, those similarities resonate in ways more truthful than theatrical.
The show premiered in Chicago in 1944, and launched the relatively unknown Williams into instant fame as a playwright. His mentally unstable older sister and strained relationship with his mother became the inspirations for Amanda and Laura Wingfield, played by Lilli-Ann Linford Foreman and Kit Foreman, respectively. Their real-life mother-daughter relationship adds even more dimension to two already incredibly dynamic performances.
Amanda Wingfield is a faded beauty, a Southern belle who was once overwhelmed with suitors desperate to marry her. She married a charming and handsome man who gave her two children and then abandoned them 16 years ago. This has left Amanda with a pathological need to care for her children, constantly smothering them, and leaving her up on the cross as a martyr. Linford-Foreman's performance takes a very difficult woman and adds colors and shades that would have been absent in a lesser actress's work.
Laura Wingfield is terrified of so many things—of life, of people, of failure—and she is left with an inferiority complex so debilitating, that it has isolated her from the outside world almost completely. Her phonograph and her collection of glass animals are her only comfort. Kit Foreman imbues Laura with a sparkle of strength in her eyes, just enough to keep the feeling of hope alive in the audience that this young woman will find her way out of the reeds. In a role that easily could have been one-note, Kit manages to always stay subtle and fascinating.
The man of the house is Tom Wingfield, an aspiring writer who unhappily works in a shoe warehouse. He wants to join the Merchant Marines, but his sense of duty to his family compels him to stay, even as his relationship with Amanda strains to the breaking point. John Kish plays Tom with a fraying nobility that breaks the heart as we see him straining to be selfish. Kish has a genuine stage presence that enables him to help carry the show effortlessly.
The Wingfield family drama culminates in a dinner party, where Tom brings a guest as a possible gentleman caller for Laura. Only this guest has no idea of the family's ulterior motives and just thinks he is getting a free dinner out of the bargain. Jim Mocabee plays the gentleman caller with gusto and brings an entirely different energy to the Wingfield dining table.
Those four characters interacting during the second act holds most of the sneaky power of the play in its pages. Themes of aging, freedom, familial responsibility, abandonment and isolation all collide onstage in what could be one of the most subtle and powerful fades to black in theater history.
The Glass Menagerie is delicate, just like the animals in Laura's collection. It is one of the finest pieces of theatrical art of the 20th century and a powerful piece of drama with life's biggest questions on display, daring us to live the answers ourselves.
The Glass Menagerie
Jan. 23- Feb. 2, 7:30pm. Sundays at 2 pm.
Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.
Tickets available at Cascadestheatrical.org, $20.