Casey Grimm, left, as Tom, Judy Kimball as Amanda and Kate Ewings as Laura in Madison Theatre Guild's The Glass Menagerie.
The greatest strength of Madison Theatre Guild's production of The Glass Menagerie is that it allows Tennessee Williams' classic play to stand for itself. Straightforward in approach, the production at the Bartell Theatre has no surprises; director Joan Brooks offers no gimmicks. Rather, the show is rooted firmly in the script. On the page, Williams' writing is lovely and poetic; performed, it will make you shiver with delight.
The Glass Menagerie is set in Depression-era St. Louis, in a small apartment crammed with remnants of a more successful past. Center stage, a curio cabinet with dozens of glass trinkets shimmers tantalizingly throughout the play. Subtle clips of period music and delightful vintage costumes add to the effect.
As loving and overbearing mother Amanda Wingfield, Judy Kimball pulls off a solid Southern accent -- important to the identity of her character, a displaced Southern belle. Tall and thin, her neck wrapped in a string of pearls, Kimball does a standout job -- she's imposing and proper as she over-mothers her children.
Her daughter Laura, bearing physical signs of a childhood illness, is a sensitive, shy girl who lives in a world she creates with her collection of glass animals. As Laura, Kate Ewings grows more and more captivating as the show progresses -- withdrawing into herself and then flickering suddenly with an internal vibrancy that keeps the audience connected.
Onstage, Kimball and Ewings have incredible chemistry -- their interactions are laced with a potent combination of love and tension.
Casey Grimm is intense as Tom Wingfield. Tom is tired of his life -- especially of his mother's hovering presence -- and it shows in Grimm's every movement and word. He's visibly full of resentment and about to shatter. At Saturday night's show, Grimm garnered some heavy chuckles from the audience with his excellent delivery of the rant in which Tom declares angrily and facetiously, "I'm going to opium dens! Yes, opium dens, dens of vice and criminals' hangouts, Mother...They call me Killer, Killer Wingfield, I'm leading a double life, a simple, honest warehouse worker by day, by night a dynamic czar of the underworld, Mother."
Tom's jovial, mustachioed friend Jim, brought home for dinner as a suitor for Laura, is played by Michael Andersen. Jim is intense, too, but his energy runs opposite of Tom's -- he's full of confidence and optimism. In his interaction with Laura, Jim is warm and friendly -- unaware of the illusion he's creating. The role of Jim is deceptively easy -- his jolliness could be overwhelming on the stage. But Andersen finds a perfect balance -- his scene with Laura is delicate and well-executed.
The Glass Menagerie is layered with themes, but in Saturday's performance the one that stood out to me was the idea of illusion. "Yes, I have tricks in my pocket," says Tom in his opening monologue. "I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."
Full of illusions and truth, Madison Theatre Guild's thorough production of this classic allows Tennessee Williams' humor and heartbreak to shine through.