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Review: SUDS Presents “The Glass Menagerie”

Passionate performances and an honest script create a deeply affecting production, writes Jackson Busse.

Zerrin Craig-Adams as Laura Wingfield. Photo: Stella Karver.
Zerrin Craig-Adams as Laura Wingfield. Photo: Stella Karver.

2012 certainly seems to be the year of ‘classics’ for SUDS. Caitlin West and Nick Rowbotham’s production of Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie directly follows the staging of Ibsen’s masterpiece The Dolls House, and joins a season program marked by Wilde, Shakespeare, and Byron. What made The Glass Menagerie one of the finer productions of the year, however, was the willingness of West and Rowbotham to let the glorious script by Williams do most of the work.

The set design was much as one might expect: the Cellar was transformed into a cramped, claustrophobic 1930’s St. Louis apartment, which literally had audience members gasping for air (and consequently coughing… a lot). The simplicity, however, powerfully evoked the dreary and unremarkable atmosphere of the play, and so too the interiority of each character, wherein burn the “implacable fires of human desperation”.

Caitlin West’s Amanda Wingfield was neurotic and anxiety-ridden. While overbearing at times, West eventually settled into her character, thanks largely to the placating effect of Nathaniel Pemberton as Tom, who brought to the stage a level of poise, command, and consistency. Pemberton’s performance ensured that the audience was given a solid access point into the play and the intriguing familial interactions which are at the heart of it. West dealt well with the character-arc of Amanda; ensuring that as she became all the more fragile, the audience was able to look upon her and her desperate (yet ultimately futile) attempts to find some sustenance for her family, with sympathy.

Caitlin West as Amanda Wingfield and Nathaniel Pemberton as Tom Wingfield. Photo: Stella Karver.

Zerrin Craig-Adam’s portrayal of the introverted Laura Wingfield struck the right balance: she was utterly mesmerising, though denied the audience (until the appropriate moment) access into the world of her and her glass menagerie. The appearance of Ryan Knight as Jim O’Connor breathed new life into the play, and ensured that it was not divested of momentum.

His comical eccentricity provided a level of light-heartedness, which served to render his own dissatisfaction all the more poignant.

There was something very human about each of these performances, which was what made the play so very moving. Pemberton’s narratorial asides (perfectly staged) were impressive in their capacity to remove the audience from the claustrophobia of the apartment, and force them to look upon the desperate pleas and pursuits of the family as helpless spectators.

The lighting by Ethan McKenzie was subtle, yet powerful in its ability to convey the waning vitality of the family. Reuben Stone’s sound design complimented the play wonderfully, and helped to inject it with a real sense of pathos.

Rowbotham and West have made a virtue of simplicity in their faithful, and deeply affecting production of The Glass Menagerie.