The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams. State Theatre Company of South Australia – Dunstan Playhouse. 9 May 2012

Tennessee Williams has written a classic ‘slice of life’ piece, which recounts a snapshot in time for a struggling depression era family.

The characters each share disappointment and dissatisfaction with the trajectory of their lives, past and future. In a dreamlike state, Williams, through the voice of Tom Wingfield as narrator, recounts a crucial moment when the family plays host to a gentleman caller. Throughout the show each of the characters reveals their hidden potential and their latent weaknesses as the event unfolds.

Amanda Wingfield, the mother, is full of love and old fashioned southern pragmatism, but is unconsciously smothering both of her children – and unknowingly pushing Tom to breaking point. Diedre Rubenstein reveals her character’s strength of conviction with great desperation, holding back from the psychotic tendencies which Williams has occasionally written into Amanda. Rubenstien also showed great vulnerability which was juxtaposed so nicely against her blatant word bashing of Laura in the later scenes.

Anthony Gooley as both narrator and son, Tom Wingfield, struck a good balance with the other characters, and imbued his characterisation with the frustration he could not escape. Gooley worked particularly well when directly addressing the audience, maintaining an intimate and private story telling experience.

Gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor played by Nick English was amiable and intelligent. English showed his character to be both ambitious and personable, easily winning the affections of Amanda and gently charming Laura out of her shell.

The standout however, was relative newcomer Kate Cheel in her second performance for State Theatre. Cheel played the physically crippled and painfully introverted Laura Wingfield as if she had personally known her, her whole life. Each inflection of voice, glance and facial expression captured the shy and emotionally wounded Laura with wonderful depth. Her scenes alone with Jim were the most touching, letting the audience play silent witness to her own pivotal, short lived epiphany, in the company of this optimistic and sincere gentleman.

Set design by Victoria Lamb achieved the reflectivity of dreams and memory, only capturing the important articles and beyond that, all which has been forgotten left in darkness. The glass menagerie itself, placed precariously close to the edge of the stage and within striking distance of the action, highlighted the fragility of the family situation and the mental stability of Laura. At the top of the show, pieces of the set flew in from different directions, creating a great feeling of illusion. Coupled with excellent lighting design from Mark Pennington the set was indicative of the inescapable confinement experienced by the family.

Director Adam Cook has delivered a nicely polished version of a very popular and well-worn play. A gem in the 2012 State Theatre season.

When: 4 to 26 May
Where: Dunstan Playhouse, Festival Theatre