Brown County Playhouse: The Glass Menagerie

This is the final week of the Brown County Playhouse’s production of “The Glass Menagerie” and it’s a real summer theatre treat. Director Jonathan Michaelsen has assembled a very good group of actors to play Tennessee Williams’ ever fascinating Wingfield family and the “Gentleman Caller,” with veteran Wendy Barrie-Wilson at the center as the mother, Amanda.

Amanda is a faded southern belle, a woman still in the thrall of her youth and the evening of seventeen Gentleman Callers, but she’s also a determined scrapper holding a family with two quite difficult children together, against bad odds as the country wallows in the depression. Son Tom, John Maness, is and aspiring poet, rebellious and bitterly disappointed with his work in a warehouse. Daughter Laura, Lilia Vassileva, is crippled by shyness so painful that she doesn’t seem to be able to cope with life at all.

“The Glass Menagerie” is a memory play narrated by Tom, but the memories are far from wispy surrealism. In the Brown County production the life of the Wingfields is richly remembered, layered and detailed. As Tom, Amanda and Laura talk, argue, fuss, and reminisce there is the ease of the short-hand that families fall into. Their situation is a grim, but there’s a warmth even as discontents and fears simmer. It’s a remarkable performance of a fascinating piece. Tennessee Williams language is justly famous, it both sounds conversational and at the same time has a lyrical depth and flow.

Much of the first part of “The Glass Menagerie” is the preparation for the arrival of Jim, “The Gentleman Caller,” Michael Borgman. Amanda has persuaded Tom to invite, a fellow from the warehouse home with hopes that he may rescue Laura. Jim turns out to have been a high school hero of Laura’s. He’s a bit of an ironic figure as a knight of the American Dream. Jim is a bit rueful about his current position as a clerk, but full of shallow optimism about success through night school classes in public speaking and radio-electronics.

Left alone with Laura, Jim expounds on his hopes and even includes her in his dreams. Lilia Vassileva’s head gradually came up out of her usual guarded stance, and as they awkwardly danced, they were carried away and he kissed her. Jim quickly apologized and then revealed that he actually had to leave to pick up his fiancée, but it was an incredible moment of theatre as we saw a young woman–however fleetingly–find and be transformed by love.

Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” has its final performances this Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at eight with three o’clock matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

You can find an interview with Wendy Barrie-Wilson and Lilia Vassileva on our Arts Interviews page .

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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