Town Hall Theatre, Galway
My review of The Glass Menagerie at the Town Hall coming up just as soon as I renew my subscription to The Homemaker’s Companion …
“Man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter, and none of those instincts are given much play at the warehouse!”
“I’ve had to put up a solitary battle all these years. But you’re my right-hand bower! Don’t fall down, don’t fail!”
“I try, Mother”
“Now it is just like all the other horses”
Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie has been occupying the consciousness of the theatre-goer for seventy-one years now. The story of the Wingfield family and their Gentleman Caller is remembered for its hilarious and clever parlance and its ultimately heartbreaking defeat. Characterised as a ‘memory play’, the story’s landscape is draped with an expressionist ethereality in which the physics of the Wingfield home are endowed with dreamlike complexions. Its inhabitants take refuge within their own creative spheres to escape the reality of their socio-economic conditions, as well as their own conflicting relationships with each other. These avenues of escape offer no long-term solutions to the crisis of ‘reality’. A ray of hope then catches The Glass Menagerie as mother Amanda and son Tom put aside their differences and tailor events to unite solitary daughter Laura with a kind man from her past, and hopefully a companion for her future. The shine of her knight’s armour turns out to be a misread trick of the light. Our mirage of hope evaporates. The story ends in chaos. The Glass Menagerie is hilarious, beautiful, inventive, delicate, cruel … all at once. Director Max Hafler captures this multi-sided prism with great ambition however some of the story’s emotional resonance leaks and gets lost along the way.
In the show’s programme Hafler states that a “sentimental” presentation has been a favoured approach in the play’s production history, and with his Theatrecorp production he was more interested in the presence of the characters’ poverty and the play’s provocation of memory. Both these guiding forces have informed a magnificent set by designer Mary Doyle who accomplishes Williams’ imaginarium with an infrastructure of steel framework enclosing a neat elegant interior of cherished antiques and furnishings. Mike Byrne’s soft range of blue, pink, and yellow light resemble the colour sequence of light passing through glass and gorgeously evoke the play’s atmosphere of memory. The cast are in top form here, and though their southern accents are overstated at times they do not allow them to inhibit their deliveries. Sean T. Ó Meallaigh and Ionia Ní Chroinín skim their characters’ vulnerabilities with charm as opposed to over-imposed sympathy, which makes them incredibly watchable. Ó Meallaigh articulates the poetry and conviction of Tom Wingfield commendably. Maria McDermottroe completes the family tree with a fierce performance as the Wingfield matriarch and balances the bitter resentment and motherly concern of Amanda Wingfield skilfully.
In what little I’ve seen of Hafler’s previous work I got the impression that the director had more priority for technique as opposed to his work’s empathic ability. The Wingfield family are the heart of The Glass Menagerie and he seems to lose sight of that at times in his production. Williams’ script decrees Tom and Amanda to find compromise in their opposing views, which results in some lovely chemistry between Ó Meallaigh and McDermottroe. Ní Chroinín, on the other hand, is very often floating on the periphery of family matters, cautiously treading on eggshells, and the opportunities to enlighten her character’s sibling relationship with Ó Meallaigh or mother-daughter relationship with McDermottroe are unfortunately not taken advantage of. When Laura helps her drunken brother to bed or when Tom gives his sister the rainbow coloured scarf of Malvolio the Magician we see glimpses of their relationship but their personal connection is never realised. After being concerned for Laura’s future throughout, it isn’t until the play’s conclusion when Amanda comforts her daughter that we see the familial relationship between the two, and by then it’s late in the game. Marcus Lamb’s arrival as the Gentleman Caller is timely in this respect, as he and Ní Chroinín find great chemistry in the play’s pivotal climaxing scene. The reunion between ‘Blue Roses’ and Jim O’Connor is a delicate, playful and moving moment. Lamb is effortlessly likeable in it, and Ní Chroinín’s discovery that her carriage has in fact transformed back into a pumpkin is devastating.
Despite a few cracks, Hafler’s The Glass Menagerie is a wonderful realisation of Williams’ classic and is worth the investment.
What did everybody else think?