The problem I've always faced in the past with productions of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" is no matter how engaging the story is I just don't find myself invested in the characters. The show is a memory play and with that most productions fall into the trap of over accentuating the obvious flaws and guilt of the characters within Tom's memory. But what director Braden Abraham and the cast of the current production at the Rep have done is to keep those flaws but still present real and honest characters which allow the audience to care about their mistakes and well being. And that's what makes this production a complete success.
Loosely drawn from Williams' own history and relationship with his family we begin the play with an introduction of the world from Tom (Ben Huber), a likable yet aimless young man trapped by circumstance as well as the narrator of the piece. We find that he lives with his Mother Amanda (Suzanne Bouchard), a former southern socialite who just married the wrong man, and Sister Laura (Brenda Joyner), a young woman with a slight defect in her gait and a major crippling shyness. The three in this post depression, pre-war era are barely able to make ends meet largely due to the abandonment by the Father several years before and who is only ever seen in the play in the ever present smiling portrait in the house. But no matter how bad things are Amanda's only dream is to have her daughter enjoy the attentions of "Gentlemen callers" like she had as a girl but who just don't come around for Laura. So Tom agrees to invite Jim (Eric Riedmann), one of the guys from work, home for dinner in the hopes that he may take a liking to Laura. But the addition of this unknown force into an already fragile family dynamic may prove to be too much.
One of Seattle's most stunning actresses, Bouchard becomes the driving force of this show. Just as Amanda owns every room she is in, so does Bouchard own the stage, and her layers upon layers of complex emotion she inhabits into her is nothing less than thrilling. It took me a bit to warm up to Bouchard's character as it did with Joyner and Huber but that's the slow burn of the relationship with the audience that Abraham has infused into these very real people that draws you in for the long haul. Joyner's shy and damaged soul of a girl is almost painful to watch as you just want her to open up and be happy. And Huber embodies the handsome yet weary Tom with elements of what might have been traits of Tennessee Williams (as this is his story) creating a rich and engaging character. On the polar opposite side of the spectrum, Riedmann's Jim is instantly likeable which only illuminates the beaten down nature of this family and his budding romance with Laura was such a pleasure to witness that it created a kind of dangerous chemistry as you knew the joy of the moment couldn't last.
With a simple and intimate set from Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams and haunting lights from L.B. Morse, the Rep has come up with a tragically beautiful achievement. With the show's intimacy and investment in the characters, the audience is allowed to care for the well being of these delicate figures which makes it all the more distressing when they break.
"The Glass Menagerie" performs at Seattle Repertory Theatre through December 2nd. For tickets or information, contact the Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.
Photo credit: Alan Alabastro