"Stage Magician"

Summer and Tennessee Williams were made for each other. The atmosphere required of his plays calls for all the infernal heat and seedy sultriness the season can bring, so that his characters may glisten and glow amid the squalor of their lower-class existence—well, their bodies at least. The Glass Menagerie is one of those plays. I recently caught a local (but superb) performance of the playwright's breakthrough masterpiece staged in a community theater just outside Chicago. This revival had no marquee-name actors in it, but rather felt like it did, for the acting was first-rate, anything but provincial. The girl who played Laura was a delicate damsel-in-distress, a brunette Rapunzel constantly on the brink of a nervous breakdown; so fragile in stature was this Laura that if the slightest summer breeze had blown inside the Wingfield's apartment, it could have easily finished her off. The actress who portrayed Amanda, the most overbearing of "stage mothers," had a fierce intensity that was both thrilling and hilarious: she projected her booming voice Ethel Merman-style, provoking barely suppressed giggles from the audience. The parts of Tom and Jim were played admirably by a pair of clean cut twentysomethings whose matinee idol looks had the girl sitting next to me perspire profusely from excitement (or titillation) whenever both actors uttered a word. The set design was minimal, as in hardly any effort was put into its composition: a chair there, a small table in one corner, a dining table for three was the focal point, and a record player sitting all by its lonesome in a little nook added to the dismal décor, from which the music, the audience assumed, came from. Laura's glass menagerie collection was situated in another corner, safely assembled on a tarnished silver tray, placed on top of a coffee table that had seen better days. The Caravaggio-esque lighting was a touch dark at times, shrouding facial expressions during crucial moments. The music was evocative yet subtle, seamlessly integrated to heighten and punctuate major scenes.