By Mary Boyle
When you think back to the books you were required to read in high school, it's likely that you read the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams; it's equally likely that you didn't get much, if anything, from reading it, because this play requires more empathy than your average high school student can muster. Many a grown-up can recall that painful classroom reading of Romeo and Juliet in their freshman year that ruined Shakespeare for all time (plays, you see, are meant to be seen, not read). Luckily, now is your chance to experience this theater classic the way it was meant to be, with The Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of The Glass Menagerie.
The play, which brought Williams into the limelight, premiered in Chicago in 1944, but quickly made its way to Broadway, where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1945. Largely autobiographical, the story is set in the same tenement building in St. Louis during the Great Depression that Williams, himself, began to write in, while the characters are modeled after Williams and his family; particularly his older sister, Rose, who suffered from schizophrenia and was institutionalized after a botched lobotomy during a period of time when Williams was away from St. Louis. Williams went on to be a prolific playwright, winning Pulitzer prizes for his plays, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and made sure that Rose was well cared for throughout her life.
In this "memory play," Williams character is Tom Wingfield (played by Ryan Imhoff), a young man struggling with the weight of putting aside his own dreams in order to support his mother, Amanda (Hollis Resnik), and his sister, Laura (Kelsey Brennan), after their father left them. A faded Southern Belle, Amanda escapes her bitter reality by living in her storied past, while simultaneously fretting over the future, and what will become of her and her children. Laura's life has been shaped by her disability: a leg crippled by a childhood illness that has left her with a noticeable limp; more crippling, though, is her social anxiety, which has left her unable to attend the typing classes her mother had hoped would gain her employment and, therefore, financial security. Laura wants nothing more than to be left alone with her glass menagerie, but the logical option to secure Laura's future would, of course, be a husband, so Tom is charged with finding a "Gentleman Caller" (Brandon Dahlquist) to save the day.
Directed by Mark Clements, The Rep's Menagerie has an excellent cast and a brilliant set that stays true to Williams' vision: seemingly stark, direct, and simple. The narrator takes the guesswork out; the metaphors are obvious. On the surface, it appears to be mainly a story of desperation and regret, but what makes it timeless and intriguing is its relationship to each individual in the audience; the way a person identifies with the characters in the play that changes with age, life experiences, and the passage of time, so that although the play remains the same, it is different each time you see it. Though some of the social conditions that contribute to the characters' troubles in this play no longer exist, the play remains as compelling as ever. Perhaps, those thousands of high school English teachers are on to something.
The Glass Menagerie runs through April 9th at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, located at 108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Ticket Office at 414-224-9490, online at https://www.milwaukeerep.com, or in person at the Ticket Office, Monday – Sunday from 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. The Ticket Office will also be open on performance days from noon until 15 minutes after curtain.
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Milwaukee Rep is a nationally-recognized company that presents compelling dramas, powerful classics, award-winning contemporary works and full-scale musicals housed in its three unique performance venues – the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio, and Stackner Cabaret. The Rep also produces an annual production of A Christmas Carol,
featuring a World Premiere new adaptation in 2016, at the historic Pabst Theater. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Clements and Managing Director Chad Bauman,
Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee’s rich diversity.