Tennessee Williams’ breakthrough autobiographical play, The Glass Menagerie, gets a fresh, poignant production at A Noise Within. The character of Tom Wingfield, as Williams, reminds us in his opening monologue that we are about to witness a “memory play” and indeed, the compelling story of Tom, his mother and sister in their cramped, St. Louis apartment in 1937 is bathed in a gauzy pathos. Geoff Elliott exquisitely directs what turns out to be a deep dive into family memories, how they cling to us, shaping our lives and who we think we are with sometimes shattering results.
Tom is a conflicted young man who longs to be a writer but is stuck working in a shoe factory to support his mother, Amanda, and fragile sister, Laura. Their father left them long ago and as his smiling portrait looms large in the living room, they can’t seem to escape this tragic turn of events in their lives. Amanda is a faded Southern Belle, lost in a past of suitors and possibility, and puts the family’s hopes in the success of her children. Their delicate, insular world turns upside down at the prospect of Tom bringing a gentleman caller home for dinner to, as Amanda assumes, court Laura.
Rafael Goldstein is a tortured Tom with raw nerves exposed; a young man on the verge of imploding. It’s a dangerous performance that is riveting. His scenes with Deborah Strang’s Amanda are painful, sometimes funny and at one point, frightening. Strang captivates as Amanda, beautifully creating both sympathy for her as a mother worried about her children and revulsion at the way her delusion damages them. She is almost ridiculous when she appears in her cotillion dress for dinner and yet we get a glimmer of the beauty she must have been.
Erica Soto brings an awkward nerdiness to the role of Laura, not an easy task as the actress is quite beautiful. But it really works because, as we see through the eyes of Jim, the gentleman caller, she has a unique beauty that she obviously doesn’t see. Soto flinches around her mother like a scared cat who’s been hit too many times and turns her head as if to hide from the world. When she looks into Jim’s eyes in their pivotal scene, we see what Jim sees and long for her to see and save herself. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking moment.
Which brings us to Jim, played by Kasey Mahaffy, in a fresh way I’ve never seen before. In Tom’s description, Jim is “an emissary from a world of reality” and Mahaffy injects the proceedings with a jolt of crackling energy when he bounds into the room. He’s charming, affable, a bit shallow; the embodiment of all-American confidence. He brings humor and light into their dull, gray lives which is a breath of fresh air but I did find it a sharp turn when he then has the tender moments with Laura.
The power of Elliott’s take is the way in which we are brought along on an emotional rollercoaster with the family; we laugh with them, are afraid for them, we teeter on the edge with them until the devastating reality hits. It is poetic and dreamy, yet bold with emotion. Williams’ play endures because we all have families and we all experience them through our own sweet and often painful lens.
The Glass Menagerie continues through April 26, 2019 at A Noise Within located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107. Tickets available at the Box Office, online at www.anoisewithin.org or by phone (626) 356-3121. Single tickets start at $25, Student Rush with ID an hour before performance $20.