Reviewed by Michael J. Opperman
Richard Hoover's experience as a set designer includes the film productions Girl Interrupted, Dead Man Walking and Ed Wood; as well as an exhaustive list of theater. The Guthrie has had the fortune of Hoover's design on recent productions of Hamlet and Death of a Salesman and now we are treated to his adept work on the production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Hoover artfully represents the poor urban neighborhoods of working class St. Louis. The neon signs half-heartedly lit with pale violet advertise "DANCE," "LIQUOR," and "BAR." There is a seedy energy about the city he represents, perfectly expressing Williams' idiom. That city wraps the cloistered interior of the tenement apartment where the Wingfields struggle. The tension between the world imagined by Amanda Wingfield (Harriet Harris) within the apartment and the one lived outside by her son Tom (Randy Harrison) is heartbreaking and exact.
Amanda's ruined dreams of wealth and position, her daughter Laura's (Tracey Maloney) painfully shy introversion and obsession with glass animals, and Tom's bold forays at nights and barely closeted existence during the day are quintessential Williams. An aging adult Tom (Bill McCallum) narrates as well, appearing and disappearing throughout the production. This younger Tom is desperate to leave his dead-end warehouse job to find a world bigger than the one in which he exists, while Amanda hopes for a career for her daughter or, even more desirable, for a "gentleman caller" to fall in love with Laura and rescue her through marriage. All the characters are longing for something they don't have. Harris is particularly affecting in her manic turn as Amanda. Her desperation is like a taste deep in the back of the throat - alternatively grudging and begging.
Maloney plays Laura with a casual vacancy in her devotion to her glass animals. The animals are nearly as fragile as she is and Jim O'Connor (Jonas Glasgow), her only gentleman caller, breaks the horn off her unicorn. She can live with the animal's earthly transformation as long as there is hope that Jim might fall in love with her. When that possibility is torn from her, she retreats to the world she has built inside her glass menagerie. Maloney gives Laura both sadness and strength. There is a stubbornness and mature consistency in her deception after she drops out of school, as well as solid -- if heartbreaking -- resiliency as she maintains that she is who she is.
The narration by an adult Tom gives the play an increased sadness. Confirmation that his estrangement from his family is absolute makes the conflict more acute. McCallum's presence in the role is measured and confident. With a gentility that borders Southern, McCallum's Tom is elegant and articulate with fluid gestures and a comfortable way around loss and ennui. Never have I been so happy having been made so sad.
The Guthrie production of this moving play is sure. Under Dowling's expert direction, this staging of The Glass Menagerie is one of the best I've seen.