SUDS’ The Glass Menagerie: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket”
Little touches like “tomorrow gives me no time to prepare”, mention of knafeh, the hometown of Ipoh, checking if necessary to take off shoes at entrance, and sitting on cushions enhanced the play with cultural details.
Everyone is familiar with at least one Tennessee Williams play from high school English. Even if you’re not, you automatically associate his name with a high calibre of playmaking. SUDS’ production of The Glass Menagerie has indeed proven a worthy addition to the countless reinterpretations of a classic.
Upon entry, the digital program was filled with background information on the genesis and purpose of this project — to centre the ‘ethnic other’ experience by POC creatives, for POC and non-POC audiences. The considered approach of these production members cultivated a high level of care and creativity in delivering this story full of dreams, disappointment, memory, heartbreak and laughter.
The play surrounds the story of the Wingfield family, immigrants to Australia. Tom, played by Nelson Lee, is stuck between his reality and his desire to become a poet, the anti-immigrant job as it doesn’t involve prosperity or security. Amanda “Ima” (Josephine Lee) — a matriarch — attempts to recreate her youth by gathering “gentleman callers” for her daughter, Laura (Airlie Benson) and moulding her son, Tom.
The set design truly captured the feel of a lived-in house — not just through photographs, lamps and vases. A torn crochet tablecloth, a clothesline, Persian carpet and evil eye amulet convinced me that a POC family occupied this space. In particular, the tablecloth and carpet were reminiscent of my grandma’s house. The godfather-like portrait — minus the seriousness, with more smile and charm — was always watching from above, and actively the fifth character, evocative of the lost past.
The detailed set was accompanied by effective costumes, a varied soundtrack and videos with imagery and multilingual phrases accompanying the play, which kept the audience engaged throughout.
The walkway was a clever touch. It allowed Tom to exit the scene and assume the role of the narrator to voice profound thoughts and inner desires against the red and blue strobe lights. One idea that stuck with me was the fact that countries like America and Australia export their adventures to be watched in cinemas for the world to see. Unless, there is a war, representation of anyone beyond that sphere, is non-existent or minimal.
On a lighter note, the moment that I saw an Honi Soit newspaper being utilised — effectively — as a prop, I realised that cheeky, meta tricks were being displayed before me. To quote Tom, the show was saying in capital letters, “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket.” The newspaper itself wasn’t merely for decoration. Instead, it was used on four separate occasions: Tom and Jim each read it to escape Ima’s questions and boredom, and Ima also convincingly picked it up and hilariously asked aloud “Honi Soit?”, as if coming across it for the first time. At one point, Tom actually sat on it. I guess he wanted to absorb the newest edition.
Ima was easily the standout with her boisterousness and catchy phrases, but also in her more quiet and reflective moments. Laura was perfectly frightened and anxious, a stark contrast to her energetic mother. Tom commanded the stage, stomping about, going to the “movies” whilst simultaneously navigating his inner and outer lives.
Little touches like “tomorrow gives me no time to prepare”, mention of knafeh, the hometown of Ipoh, checking if necessary to take off shoes at entrance, and sitting on cushions enhanced the play with cultural details. The alternation between pure rage and tender moments amongst the family members is sure to ring a bell for everyone, and even validate others.
While the physical comedy was performed well, the constant placement of the candle near pieces of cloth gave me consistent heart palpitations. However, the actors were on the ball, and would move the candle away, while staying in character.
Jim O’Connor (Michael Sebastian) had fantastic chemistry with Laura. He also delivered the funniest line of the night that had the audience roaring. No spoilers but it is directed at Laura in such an offhand and harmless manner, that you cannot help but giggle.
At the intermission, I was speaking to some of the audience and they were encouraged by this rendition to go back and visit the original story. Adapting such rich texts and adding a multicultural touch would work well for future SUDS productions, especially benefiting from the talents of the team behind The Glass Menagerie.
Well done to director Danny Yazdani, and the entire cast and crew. And now excuse me while I satisfy my craving for knafeh. Meanwhile, be sure to check out The Glass Menagerie at the Cellar Theatre until 3 March.