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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 1:23 am | Fair 47º


Margo Kline: Memories Come to Haunt in Ensemble Theatre’s ‘Glass Menagerie’

The Tennessee Williams classic remains timeless in this local production, running through May 2

“Blow out your candles, Laura ...”

With these haunting words, the young Tennessee Williams closed his brilliant first play, The Glass Menagerie, now in performance with the Ensemble Theatre Company in Alhecama Theatre.

The play burst on the New York stage in 1945 and seems in this production not to have aged at all.

The cast includes Sara Botsford as the mother, Amanda Wingfield; Joe Delafield as the narrator and tortured son, Tom; Erin Pineda as the tragic daughter, Laura; and Joel Gelman as the hearty and obtuse “gentleman caller.” Jonathan Fox, executive and artistic director of Ensemble Theatre, directed this production with a sure hand.

Botsford’s Amanda is not a cliché. She coats her maddening barbs to her son, Tom, with more vinegar than sugar. And Delafield is a droll antagonist for her: Amanda is a monster, but certainly not to the degree of the women in Williams’ later plays. She’s no maddening Blanche DuBois; she schemes how to better her family, she sells magazine subscriptions to help make ends meet, and she can’t understand why Tom can’t do better than work at a low-wage job in a warehouse.

Tom, the surrogate for Williams, has other plans, but his heart goes out to his crippled, pathologically shy sister. Pineda plays Laura as nearly helpless, but with still a shred or two of optimism. The “gentleman caller,” upon whom Amanda has pinned her hopes for her daughter, is given a genial quality by Gelman. He tells Laura that she just needs more self-confidence, like he has.

Article Image
Joel Gelman plays the “Gentleman Caller” and Erin Pineda is Laura Wingfield. (David Bazemore photo)

Williams had written plays before The Glass Menagerie, but this was his breakthrough work, and it made a splash even before coming to Broadway. When it opened in Chicago in 1944, critics greeted it with raves and it quickly built a devoted following there.

After it moved to Broadway, it received the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, and Williams was on his way. His later plays included A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, both of which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1947 and 1955, respectively.

The Ensemble Theatre Company provides not only a first-rate cast but excellent production values. The dingy 1930s apartment set by Neil Prince is enhanced by J. Kent Inasy’s lighting design and the sound design of Joe Morrissey.

But the playwright’s words are what stay in the mind. Amanda bewails her daughter’s perilous future: “I know so well what becomes of unmarried women who aren’t prepared to occupy a position. I’ve seen such pitiful cases in the South — barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister’s husband or brother’s wife! — stuck away in some little mouse-trap of a room — encouraged by one in-law to visit another — little birdlike women without any nest — eating the crust of humility all their life!”

And Tom, having made his escape long before, remembers: “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger — anything that can blow your candles out! — for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura — and so goodbye.”

The Glass Menagerie plays at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays through May 2. For tickets, click here or call 805.965.5400.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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