by Deanna Walz
I recently had the opportunity to attend Nebraska Repertory Theatre’s preview performance of Tennessee William’s Glass Menagerie. A preview performance is officially a dress rehearsal, but there was a full house in attendance on Wednesday, November 7, to watch the memory play about a family snared by past dreams, future memories, and a suffocating present.
I’m always fascinated by revisiting works when I’m at different stages of my life. I first read The Glass Menagerie when I was in high school, and I identified with the character of Laura Wingfield. Even though I wasn’t painfully shy, most teenagers can identify with an overbearing, smothering mother.
Now that I actually am an overbearing mother, I find myself drawn to Amanda Wingfield, the single mother of two adult children who seem to have a difficult time leaving the nest. The character is so much more complex than it seemed when I was a 16-year-old reading the play for my English class, and Donna Steele who played the role in Nebraska Rep’s production showcased every nuance. Acting in a role that could easily become a caricature of a disillusioned southern belle, Ms. Steele makes it so obvious that she is determined to make sure somebody…anybody in this damn life….is happy even if it pushes her children away.
Williams wrote Glass Menagerie as a memory play, so it is presented loosely in wisps and fragments. Tom Wingfield, played by Ben Page, serves as both Amanda’s son and as narrator, sharing his memories of his mother and fragile sister.
The gorgeous set starts out as the deck of a merchant marine ship with a spare representation of the Wingfields’ apartment. The audience is constantly reminded that the story we are watching is not a part of our present reality but a reality that is mixed with whispers of the past. The dim lighting and ominous sound effects enhance that effect. Director Andy Park was so committed to this idea of blending what is now and what was then that the stage hands were even costumed as merchant marines. The deconstruction of the set at the end of the play was woven into the horror of the end of the narrative as a shattering of the memory.
All of this was done with tremendous effect, and the set design and lighting were phenomenal. I really enjoyed the way the director used the ship’s deck as the apartment’s fire escape and one of the entrances was through a staircase in the floor of the stage as opposed to a traditional stage right.
The acting from the entire company was fantastic all the way through, but Ms. Steele’s performance really stood out, and she was obviously having fun with her character. Every actor who has ever taken a theater class in high school looks forward to taking a Tennessee Williams character and breathing a bit of self into it. Ms. Steele’s take on Amanda drew a chuckle from the audience several times, and turned a character who could easily have been despised into one who the audience could sympathise with and love.
One of my favorite quotes of the entire play is “You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it.”
My advice to you is to avoid any regret and plan to go see Glass Menagerie. It is a classic play done with terrific skill and style from the Nebraska Repertory Theatre.
If you go: Remaining performances of The Glass Menagerie are November 9 and 12-15 at 7:30 pm, and November 10 at 2:00 pm, at the Temple Building (12 and R Streets in Lincoln). Tickets are available online and at the door.
Deanna Walz is a marketer and event specialist for the Lincoln Journal Star. She has participated in productions for many theatre companies in Lincoln both on and off stage. She believes in the power of community theatre for the audience, the production team, and for our community as a whole. Sharing stories creates stronger communities.
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