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'Glass Menagerie' shines, but there are dull spots

The Baltimore Sun

The opening night of Chesapeake Arts Center Studio Theatre's production of The Glass Menagerie drew an appreciative group of fewer than 50 people -- a far smaller audience than it deserved.

The original play premiered in 1945 on Broadway as Tennessee Williams' first major success and is the second selection in CAC's 2007 theater series.

This "memory play" is set in St. Louis during the Great Depression, with Tom Wingfield relating through flashbacks the lives of his mother, Southern belle Amanda, who exists in her idealized genteel past, and his crippled, shy sister Laura, who fills her imaginary world with glass animals.

The play has several obvious autobiographical touches: Tom is a writer who, like Williams, worked in a menial job in a shoe factory. Laura might have represented Williams' mentally ill sister, Rose.

Amanda's constant references to gentlemen callers eventually persuade Tom to invite his shoe factory co-worker Jim O'Connor to their shabby apartment. Self-confident, charismatic Jim, however, is unable to fill his role as the suitor.

Cybele Pomeroy gives a finely nuanced performance as Amanda, a demanding role requiring her near-constant presence on stage. She expresses Amanda's frustration at her daughter's shyness that causes her to quit business school, for which Amanda has paid tuition.

She also sensitively conveys her inability to understand her son's need to escape reality through an obsession with the movies.

Lindsey Nixon reveals the many facets of the more sympathetic Laura, who grasps at the brief hope of something more in a possible relationship with Jim, an old high school crush. Dante Sheppard brings the right combination of warmth and confidence to the role of Jim O'Connor.

As Williams' surrogate and the play's narrator Tom, Robert Hitcho generally succeeds. He conveys aching to get away, his affection for his sister and abject depression.

In this small, 100-seat theater, Hitcho utilizes the space well by making eye contact with the audience to draw them into the scene, thus eliminating the usually impenetrable theatrical fourth wall.

Despite the fine performances, The Glass Menagerie remains a difficult play to stage, and CAC's production falls short in some instances. I was bothered by the set -- most particularly by the unadorned scrim wall that looked unfinished and bare.

My companion, who once staged this play, explained that a scrim wall is required in the stage directions, but he thought the wall might be enhanced by stenciling. We both liked the shabbiness of the sofa but felt the chair was too stylish to indicate Depression-era poverty.

The costumes created by Pomeroy and the cast enhance the production's believability. And, Lauren Kolstad's lighting sets the right mood.

Performances continue at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Way, Brooklyn Park. Tickets are $12 for CAC members and $15 for non-members. Call 410-636-6597 for tickets.

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