To fully understand the deep, dark, emotional undercurrents that flow like raw riptides beneath the surface of The Glass Menagerie, watch Maggie Hart’s eyes.
Hart, a SCAD student working towards her MBA in performing arts, plays Tennessee Williams’ tragic heroine Laura Wingfield in the Collective Face production of The Glass Menagerie at Muse Arts Warehouse.
If eyes are, as it’s often said, windows to the soul, then Hart’s are picture portals to someplace even deeper. As the sad storyline of The Glass Menagerie proceeds, it’s in this one performer’s eyes that the audience can clearly see the pain and sorrow of inevitability that Williams put upon his magnificent canvas.
In her early 20s, Laura Wingfield is painfully shy – she’s terrified of the world – and she’s never had a date, much less a beau. She is extremely self–conscious about the brace on her leg – the result of a childhood bout with pleurosis – and believes that no man could love her.
This is a source of great frustration and disappointment to her mother Amanda, a one–time Southern belle whose days of flirtatious womanhood ended when she married Laura’s father, a hard–drinking ne’er do well who left the family, stranded and all but destitute, when things got tough. The story takes place in 1937.
Father had once sent a picture postcard, explains Tom Wingfield, Laura’s brother and the play’s narrator. It came from Mexico, and it contained just two words: “Hello” and “Goodbye.” There was no return address.
The three of them live in a tiny, run–down apartment in St. Louis, just across the alley from the Paradise Club, a dime–a–dance joint with a blinding light out front, and the sound of happy, hot jazz spilling in the Wingfields’ window all hours of the night.
Tom, an aspiring writer, is restless, and eager to get away from Amanda, who picks at him constantly, criticizing every little thing. To her, he’s a disappointment. She worries that he’s turning into his father.
Tom and Laura are both being suffocated by their mother, although Amanda – who lives in a half–remembered past, about which she never stops talking – fully believes she is doing the best she can by her children.
This includes finding a “gentleman caller” for Laura, whom she fears will become an old maid – “one of those bird–like women without a nest.”
Reluctantly, Tom arranges for a co–worker to come by for dinner. Amanda is thrilled, and frets over tiny details; Laura discovers that this potential sweetheart is a boy she’d had a crush on in high school. This makes her so nervous she can barely stand up straight.
The final scene in The Glass Menagerie – in which the caller, Jim, has a warm, lengthy and fruitful conversation with Laura – is the most heartbreaking in a series of heartbreakers. Laura begins to come out of her shell, to forget about the leg brace, and Amanda, and the self–induced suffering she’s gone through all her young life.
And it’s all there in Maggie Hart’s eyes – the actress’ chameleonic face flashes from terror to curiosity to tentative trust to joy. She transmits these changes with her wide eyes and body language. It’s like watching a flower open.
Hart is flawless in this Collective Face show, as are the others – Dandy Barrett as Amanda, Richie Cook as Tom, and Jonathan Ashley Able as Jim. From start to finish – including an intermission, it’s two and a half hours – they not only hold your interest, they draw you in and allow you to wrap yourself in Williams’ honeyed Southern dialogue and brilliant wordplay. There is not a weak performance in the show.
Director David I.L. Poole has cast a gauzy net over the Wingfields’ tragic world, on a spectacular set that presents the family home as a sort of badly–furnished rat hole, with the light just visible from above.
The Wingfields don’t know it – and they fight the very idea – but they are frozen in time, still and unyielding, just like the motionless miniatures in Laura’s collection of glass animals.
The Glass Menagerie continues through Oct. 30 at Muse Arts Warehouse. See collectiveface.org