Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Theatrecorp, ‘The Glass Menagerie’: Glass Slipper … anyone?

Town Hall Theatre, Galway
Feb 15-19

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!”
-         Tom

“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!”
-         Amanda
“I try, Mother”
-         Tom

“Now it is just like all the other horses”
-         Laura

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?


  1. Great writing! Well done, a beautifully crafted review, and opinion I agree with, as it happens. Hope you write loads more...


  2. Thanks very much Chris. I think we've all grown into it since that first week in the town hall and, nerves calmed slightly, now manage to include as many of the necessary elements as possible...Theatre being a live art form though, no two nights are the same!
    You make a good point about the moment with the scarf though (and I do remember that it was something that was a little bit more present in the rehearsal stage but got slightly lost somewhere along the way...this is quite an enormous and daunting play/role. My mind was overloaded!) And what with all of Old Tom's obsession with Laura, and his reminiscing/observation of the scenes that's she's in, the significance of this moment-one of the few between laura and the younger Tom-was not being given it's due... So you may be glad to hear that it is now being given a little more time. The seed is ever-so-slightly more pointedly planted.
    As Matthew said, very well crafted review.
    p.s. I ended up here because I'm assembling a present, and I google searched for an image of The Homemakers Companion to see if such a thing existed. The first result was this blog!

  3. Sorry, no 'Homemaker's Companion' in sight (but I'm happy that the blog is at the top of the search list - exposure is always good).

    I'm glad that the scene with the scarf is getting the attention it deserves. It is an enormous play but yourself and Co. do a great job holding it together. I'm rather chuffed to get a thumbs up from the actor (and if that is Matthew Harrison above as I suspect - the recognized critic as well) so cheers.

    Looking forward to seeing your next one, Sean, and I hope you find 'The Homemakers Companion'.