By Thom deMartino
The past may be shrouded in the haze of memory, but our own failings are often in the eye of the beholder.
In the family melodrama “The Glass Menagerie”, directed by Tom Amen and now playing through Feb. 25 at Golden West College’s Mainstage Theater in Huntington Beach, the audience is introduced to narrator (and character) Tom Wingfield (Matthew Cobb) and his melancholy recollections of the past. The play follows his younger, troubled self in Depression-era 1930’s St. Louis, as he struggles to support his family (thanks to his absentee father abandoning them years before), while contending with his deferred dreams of being a writer and experiencing the world. Complicating his freedom are his contentious and challenging relationship with his mother, the faded former Southern belle and debutante Amanda (Carrie Vinikow): as well as his gentle, loving bond with his shy, introverted and socially-awkward sister, Laura (Carolyn Feres.)
Amanda constantly lives in the past, harkening back to her glory days and comparing her childrens’ lives against them. Her most treasured recollection and favorite tale to spin is how on one day alone in her youth, seventeen “gentleman callers” came to woo her — while in her present, she repeatedly nags Laura as to why she’s never even had one, herself.
For her own part, Laura is the kindest and most forgiving of souls… but as emotionally fragile as her treasured collection of glass animals that she attends to — her “glass menagerie,” as her mother calls them. While she’s not had any suitors, she does cling to a few precious memories of her teenage years, particularly of the crush she once had on one special boy.
Tom himself is a man of pent-up fury and frustration, trapped in his role as the sole breadwinner of the household, and rapidly approaching a boiling point with his mother’s constant berating of him and lack of appreciation for his sacrifices. Neither does she understand his frequent trips out to the movies, where he often spends most of his free evenings — his only escapist respite from her unrelenting criticism of him.
Still, the reluctant son strives to accommodate his mother’s wishes, even inviting one of his coworkers from the warehouse, the charming Jim O’Connor (Alex Jean) to dinner with the family — while leaving out the crucial detail about his mother’s overtures for Laura to find her own “gentleman caller” and fly the nest.
Good intentions, to be sure — but you know what they say about the road they’re paved with…
“Menagerie” is a beautiful, heartrending and melancholy production, with moody lighting and subtly appropriate backdrop (note the widening divide in the wall, at the rear of the apartment — a reflection of the family dynamics.) Cobb’s Tom has the desperate feel of an animal caught in a trap, ready to gnaw it’s own arm off to escape, only barely lingering for the sake of his beloved sister; Feres’ Laura is gentle and demure, quietly and almost troublingly accepting of her unremarkable life in this not-so-gilded cage; and Jean’s Jim is perhaps slightly baffled at what he’s stumbled into, but provides a golden, radiant presence and optimism lacking in the family, especially in Laura’s life.
But Vinikow’s Amanda really brings the whole piece together, with her endless reminiscing and haranguing — and yet, with a certain fragility of her own, hidden behind her clinging embrace of social mores and traditional gender roles in early 20th century society, her tightly-held belief that a woman is lesser without a man (perhaps even an unconscious reflection or guilt over her own sundered relationship and abandonment.)
“The Glass Menagerie” at Golden West College is a challenging, heavy show, with a sprinkling of lighter moments: and like many of our own relationships, certainly worth the emotional investment.
“The Glass Menagerie”, Matthew Cobb, Carrie Vinikow, Carolyn Feres and Alex Jean star in this melancholy and emotional tale of delayed dreams and family turmoil. Now playing through Feb. 25 at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15751 Gothard St, Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Tickets available through the box office at 714-895-8150, x1 or at www.gwctheater.com. Three stars.
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