The Glass Menagerie, still an important part of Tennessee Williams repertoire

By Joanna Brady

Fringe Theater continues to regale us with terrific entertainment this season. Coinciding with Tennessee Williams birthday celebration and Key West Exhibit, the group is staging The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie isn’t the first play that comes to mind when you think of Tennessee Williams. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). Other major plays include Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Camino Real (1953), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), and The Night of the Iguana (1961). Yet, it’s The Glass Menagerie that tends to stir us and stay with us, mainly because it was his break-out play, close to his own heart.

Williams’s plays tend to be more character-driven than trapped in convoluted plots. The same characters, sometimes disguised, reappear frequently in his writing. It’s in The Glass Menagerie that we first meet the dominant mother, the weak sister, the young man in search of a life outside the suffocating household—with the attendant guilt he feels for leaving the family as his father did—are all introduced. It’s a memory play that is the most autobiographical one of his repertoire.

The current production presented by Fringe Theater, features a cast that Williams would have approved of. The role of narrator and Tom, clearly the author as a young man, is convincingly played by Mathias Maloff. As Tom, he shows love for his sister Laura, quarrels with his mother, and finally reaches for the brass ring of freedom at the end—only to be haunted by guilt later.

Rebecca Gleason is outstanding as his mother Amanda, the faded southern belle desperately trying to normalize a daughter that is ‘not quite right’. Gleason’s interpretation of the pushy, misplaced maternal instinct, is outstanding. Lisa Elena Monda’s role of shy Laura is spot on. She plays the beautiful, physically challenged sister with a fragility that matches the glass ornaments she tends endlessly while listening to old records.

Pressured by his mother, Tom invites Jim, played by Arthur Crocker, for dinner, hopefully to set him up with Laura. Jim is maddeningly successful and smart, from a normal family unlike the dysfunctional Wingfields. His visit only causes Laura pain and humiliation.

This production is another coup for Rebecca Tomlinson, Fringe’s gifted Artistic Director. Her management and creativity this season has been excellent. A mysterious fiddler, William Weinstein plays his violin in the wings, giving the production a mournful kind of magic.

The Glass Menagerie runs March 15-18 and March 22-25 at 7:00 p.m. at the Parish Hall, St. Paul’s Church, 401 Duval. It’s excellent theater. Go see it!

Tickets are available at www.fringetheater.org or by calling 305-731-0581.  The Glass Menagerie will also be presented to Monroe County students at special daytime performances sponsored by the Community Foundation.

(Joanna Brady is a Key West writer, author of the Key West historical novel, The Woman at the Light, published by St. Martin’s Press)