The Milwaukee Repertory Theater has taken one of the most famous of the American classics, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, and created a world unto itself played back in memory moving through the shadows and light of the Quadracci Powerhouse.
I’ve seen numerous productions of this play over the years. Researched it, studied it, thought I’d seen it all–as a writer, critic, theater loving patron.
But this production gave me new insight into the meaning of. Williams’ language thanks in large part to the amazing four member cast and their nuanced interpretations and bold choices. All under the guidance, direction and clear devotion to the play by Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements. And Clements himself takes chances with the story while retaining the inner beauty of the fragility (and strength) of its characters, allowing their inner light to shine in this most nonrealistic of “memory plays.”
To summarize the storyline: Tom, our Narrator, is trapped in the boredom of his dead end warehouse job due to financially supporting his overbearing mother, Amanda and caring for his crippled shy sister, Laura. Their father left years ago, “a telephone man who loved long distances.” Tom longs for adventure and a chance to write. Amanda longs for the best for her children, including a gentleman caller/potential husband for Laura. Tom can seek his freedom once Laura, unable to work, has that spousal support. And as Tom promises at the start of Glass Menagerie, the “tricks in my pocket” and “things up my sleeve” produce a Gentleman Caller. But with very unintended consequences, life changing for all.
What an incredible cast! All four bring new life to their roles in ways previously unseen: Ryan Imhoff gives Tom life within the glazed over edges of his trapped existence. His teasing, moving interplay with Amanda can move just as quickly to a rage, scorching everyone in sight. Imhoff is simply fascinating to watch as are the other actors.
Kelsey Brennan gives the cripplingly shy Laura a three dimensional quality, showing strength despite her physical limiations, humor given her unbearable shyness. She pleads for us to protect her. Which appeals to Jim the Gentleman Caller, played by Brandon Dahlquist. His perforkmance is challenging as the Gentleman Caller only appears in the final scene. But Dahlquist makes the self assured young man just as vulnerable at times as Laura.Rarely has this character been fleshed out to the degree Dahlquist brings to the role.
In a star turn of a great role, Hollis Resnick returns to the Rep main stage as Amanda. And what a powerhouse (I know, I know. Really bad pun. But a perfect pun for this). I was struck with her own stage notes, calling out for “empathy” for a character who relentlessly relives the past at the expense of the present and those around her. But Resnick gives Amanda her own sense of compassion here, not so easy to write off and dismiss. Emparthy must be paid–and deservedly so.
Resnick is a marvel to watch; her subtle intonation, her quiet gestures, the restless nervousness of the fear within her being exposed is as mesmering as it becomes haunting. This very talented actress has graced the Rep’s stages in another great Williams classic, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof as well as the starring role as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow. I even got to see her as the Mother Superior in the theaterical version of the film, Sister Act. While that work may (hopefully) pay the bills. It’s her Rep work that allows her major talent to shine on and on.
How courageous and bold of Clements to place the dining room behind a wall of smoky glass, forcing us to eavesdrop and watch the actors through a distorted image. Perfectly imperfect for remembrances of things past–real or illusory.
As our narrator, Tom, tells us at the start of the incredible production: “…I give you truth in the pleasant guise of illusion…” But whose truth? And is it really all an illusion?
This production lingers on in our own memory, long after the lights dim–and all the candles get blown out.