By CHUCK GRAHAM
So The New York Times didn’t like the new Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” If word gets out about the quality of Tucson’s own Live Theatre Workshop production of this Tennessee Williams’ classic, Tucson International Airport will become a very busy place. Most interestingly, the complaints that reviewer Ben Brantley had with the “reimagined” Broadway interpretation aren’t present in the East Speedway version.
On opening night, Cynthia Jeffery was absolutely brilliant in her super-real performance as the twittery Amanda. There are no attempts at arty metaphors of political correctness. Amanda looks and feels completely genuine as a desperate busybody caught out of time and place. One theatergoer remarked after the performance, “Take away the Southern accent and she’d be my mother.”
It is director Jeremy Thompson’s focusing on those timeless qualities of personality in Williams’ writing that makes this production of “The Glass Menagerie” a hit. Amanda is not the only one to receive such a convincing portrayal. Tom is the restless and angry young man who must strike out on his own. Laura is the sweet-natured girl who learned too early how dangerous it can be to stand up for herself.
Even the Gentleman Caller, all full of ideas for his own empowerment, is a classic example of the eager audience that surfs the rolling wave of self-help books and TV infomercials.
LTW has its A-Team of repertory actors toiling away onstage to flesh out the grunts and twitches of these tragic characters. No matter how well you know their story, watching them again will be an affecting experience.
The story is pretty simple anyway. Amanda can’t stop dithering after Tom (Matt Walley), who hates his life, while Laura (Sybille Bruun) just wants to be left alone. So when Jim the Gentleman Caller (Kevin Lucero Less) arrives to makes things better, the opposite occurs.
To watch the story one more time is to be reminded how you loved to hear a favorite bedtime story over and over as a child. Just like that favorite bedtime story contained a worthy lesson, so does Williams’ play.
We are told that, once upon a time, Amanda was a beautiful and desirable young woman with many gentleman callers. There’s no reason to believe anything differently. In fact, it was her success as a young woman that led to her being caught off balance as a middle-aged single mother in St. Louis with no idea how to survive the Great Depression.
Amanda didn’t learn the next lesson of adulthood. She thought the gifts of youth would be hers to keep forever. In Jeffery’s hands we understand how Amanda lost her way. She isn’t a bad person. She isn’t a cruel mother. She isn’t selfish. She only wants to do the best she can for her children.
We see this in Amanda’s nervous gestures, the inflection in her voice, the way it tightens down on certain phrases. The body language that people once thought so graceful has become atrophied by her fear of the future. Amanda is aware her presence doesn’t contain the magic it used to. She just doesn’t know where the magic went. It must have slipped away in the night while she was sleeping.
The warning Amanda provides is that each of us must keep adding new tricks to that bag of skills we use to get through each day. Don’t become complacent. Don’t be so sure the sly wink or coquettish smile that won you approval yesterday will do the same tomorrow.
Intellectually, of course, we know this. But that isn’t the same as being reminded in a finely told story. “The Glass Menagerie” is one of those stories. At Live Theatre Workshop, it’s finely told.
if you go
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through May 1.
Where: Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Details: For reservations, call 327-4242.