Dressed in the pea jacket of a merchant sailor, with his navy knit cap pulled down over his forehead, a severe-looking Kyle Prue makes his entrances exuding anger as the narrator in Everyman Theatre's production of "The Glass Menagerie."
Prue's seething portrayal is the most distinctive feature of director Donald Hicken's basically solid production.
The stand-in for playwright Tennessee Williams in his self-described 1944 "memory play," the narrator, who shares Williams' given name of Tom, is often played wistfully, even elegiacally.
Prue, however, appears to take his lead from a line Tom utters two-thirds of the way into the play. "I'm boiling," he tells the Gentleman Caller he has brought home to meet his painfully shy sister, Laura.
Playing Tom with a short fuse could be a one-note choice, but Prue makes it credible. Far from an inviting narrator, Prue's Tom isn't taking us back to a golden dream of youth. He is, instead, returning to a nightmare.
That nightmare quality is reinforced by designer Daniel Conway's squalid tenement set, with its back wall open to reveal a similarly dark neighboring building only a few feet away. It's a set that makes it easy to see at least part of what Tom is so eager to escape. His other and far stronger reason is a strained relationship with his mother, Amanda.
It is all too easy to portray Amanda as a harridan, and Tana Hicken does not take that easy path. Her Amanda is motivated primarily by fear. She is terrified of what the future may hold for a son who shows signs of succumbing to drink and a daughter whose physical and emotional infirmities may leave her with no means of support. When the Gentleman Caller arrives, Hicken's Amanda speaks in the fast, desperate clip of a girl on her first date.
Still every inch the lady she was in her native South, this is an Amanda who knows life is hard. She has raised her children by herself, ever since her husband ran out on the family. After a major blow-up with Tom, she admits, "My devotion has made me a witch." If she seems frivolous with all her talk of her glory days as a Southern belle, it is in part a defense mechanism and in part a way of showing her children that a better life is possible.
Amanda's fear and Tom's anger are the chief impulses underlying this co-production with Silver Spring's Round House Theatre. In this strained atmosphere, Maia DeSanti's gentle Laura and Christopher Lane's gallant Gentleman Caller are a pair of innocents.
DeSanti gives a touching portrayal of sweet-natured Laura, and Lane initially comes off as the kind of good-natured up-and-comer who's so easy to talk to, he'd be equally well-suited to life as a politician or a salesman. But there's no spark between him and Laura, and his slow delivery makes their crucial scene together drag.
The rest of the production, however, is sufficiently illuminating to compensate for this shortcoming. Director Hicken's hard- edged interpretation offers renewed proof that, though entitled "The Glass Menagerie," very little is transparent about Williams' first masterpiece.
Substitution at Everyman
As the final production of its season, Everyman has substituted Lanford Wilson's "5th of July" for Martin McDonagh's "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," whose rights became unavailable. Set over the July 4 weekend in Lebanon, Mo., Wilson's 1978 drama is part of his trilogy about the fictitious Talley family. "5th of July" will run April 28-May 21.
Where: Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2: 30 p.m. Sundays and March 11. Through March 11