'Glass Menagerie' subtle, affecting at Everyman

How easily things get broken. Not just fragile things, like little glass figurines, but the less tangible things clutched most tightly, cherished most deeply — dreams, passions, ideals.

Everyone in the Tennessee Williams classic "The Glass Menagerie," which has been given a subtle and affecting revival to open Everyman Theatre's season, gets shattered in one way or another before the play ends with the gentle extinguishing of candles.

Williams created some of his most enduring and, yes, endearing characters in this semi-autobiographical, self-described "memory play" about a small family caught up in illusions and tensions that don't seem resolvable.

Abandoned by her husband, "a telephone man who fell in love with long distance," Amanda Wingfield tries to steer the lives of her children: Tom, the would-be writer stuck in a warehouse job to support the family; Laura, a young, physically handicapped woman who has withdrawn so deeply into herself that only her collection of glass animals gives her an anchor.

In deftly sculpted prose — Tom's narrations throughout achieve considerable poetic richness, particularly describing the growing threat of world war — and economical scenes brimming with marvelous layers of subtext, Williams presents a haunting drama that still resonates.

Director Vincent M. Lancisi approaches the material with obvious affection and draws from his beautifully matched cast unforced performances that allow words and feelings to register deeply.

And Daniel Ettinger has created a set that matches the sensitivity of the actors, conjuring the Wingfields' humble, late-1930s alley apartment in gentle touches (Jay A. Herzog's subdued lighting is ideal).

That home revolves around Amanda, her tailored memories about her own past, her expectations for Tom and Laura. "My devotion has made me a witch and so I make myself hateful to my children," she says.

Deborah Hazlett offers a masterful portrayal of this difficult woman, who is determined to hold onto every vestige of Southern gentility, and to find a suitable "gentleman caller" for her daughter before it is too late.

As usual, Hazlett bores into the character so deeply that it's easy to forget acting is involved. Her drawl has an unaffected, wonderfully musical quality that sends long stretches of dialogue spinning dynamically.

You sense all the best qualities of Amanda, and it's disarming, as when she and Laura makes wishes to a "little silver slipper of a moon." But Hazlett taps into the dark side of Amanda just as insightfully, especially in the last scene. She makes it terribly clear just how much Amanda has lost when aspirations for Laura and Tom's co-worker Jim — the unexpected gentleman caller — are crushed.

As Tom, the "selfish dreamer," Clinton Brandhagen sometimes swallows words or rushes through lines that could use more breathing room. But the overall impact of his performance is considerable. He gets to the heart of the character's frustrations with everything, the sense of being trapped by a world spinning pointlessly.

Sophie Hinderberger's Laura is most effective in the second act, after the arrival of Jim turns the house, and Laura, upside down. Matthew Schleigh's Jim is spot-on, all charm and smoothness until Laura awakens something unexpected, something impossible.

The music woven through the play is not very cohesive; a few too many styles compete. But that's a minor point in a production that gives Everyman a strong start for its first full season in its classy new theater.


If you go

"The Glass Menagerie" runs through Oct. 6 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette St. Tickets are $10 to $60. Call 410-752-2208 or go to everymantheatre.org.

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