THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Writers’ Theatre Chicago. A new take on this oft produced masterpiece is rare. But somehow director William Brown–working in the back of a Glencoe bookstore–has fashioned a version of The Glass Menagerie so heartfelt and fresh it moistened even this jaded critic’s eyes.
Of course, in a play as poetic as this one the space matters much less than the performers. And Brown has found four bright, clear, inspired actors. Jennifer Friedmann manages to make of the easily overlooked Laura more than the usual shrinking violet-martyr. Likewise, Susan Hart’s Amanda is not your usual nagging harridan but a full, rounded human being beset by difficult circumstances–the Depression, her lack of skills, her abandonment by a ne’er-do-well husband–and trying to prepare her children for a world much harsher and more uncertain than the one she grew up in.
It’s Scott Parkinson as Tom, however, who really makes the production fly. Some have played him as an angry young man, others as a sensitive, intelligent observer, and still others as someone who’s no less a victim of his mother than Laura is. Parkinson plays Tom as all three and adds a touch of the cad, turning him into a monster every bit as fascinating and dangerous as his strong-willed mother.
Even more impressive, this evenhanded production reveals how clear-eyed Williams’s semiautobiographical portrait of a family is. Everyone is a victim here, yet everyone is also responsible not only for his or her own misery but for the misery of everyone else in this sick household. –Jack Helbig