The Glass Menagerie cannot be broken surely in the end?
The set at penangpac Stage 1 was ghostly as we took our seats. Actor Marina Tan who plays Amanda Wingfield moved around the blue surreal stage silently.
Guests tumbled in noisily greeting each other almost oblivious of the actors on the stage moving around like invisible apparitions.
The lights dimmed, the hall darkened and hushed.
THE OPENING ACT
Our attention is focused on the chiselled profile of Tom Wingfield, who immediately assumes the role of narrator and launched into his opening monologue.
TOM WINGFIELD’S MONOLOGUE
“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket; I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.
To begin with, I turn back time. I reverse it to that quaint period, the thirties, when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind. Their eyes had failed them or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy.
In Spain there was revolution. Here there was only shouting and confusion.
In Spain there was Guernica. Here there were disturbances of labour, sometimes pretty violent, in otherwise peaceful cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Saint Louis. . . .
This is the social background of the play. The play is memory.
Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.
In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings.
I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother Amanda, my sister Laura and a gentleman caller who appears in the final scenes.”
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
Tom took us on a journey back to the era of the Great Depression, the turbulent 1930’s, to a fragmented piece of his memory where time clouds judgement and emotions are heightened in that dim, fuzzy recess of the human mind where the story retold is fictional rather than factual.
He gamely names himself as the protagonist and all the other characters in the play including the photograph on the wall of the grinning Mr. Wingfield who abandoned his family sixteen years earlier.
Tom grew up fatherless in a home inflicted and impacted on the day Mr. Wingfield up and left. Tom’s casual sarcastic mention of receiving a postcard (from his father) without a return address marked with two words that burned in his mind.
American actor and director Christopher Preslar’s candid portrayal of Tom’s struggles with issues of abandonment and betrayal, the devastating lack of security and self-worth measured in the 65 dollars he make a month is heart-breaking.
Forced to support his family and frustrated by his dead beat job at the shoe warehouse, the sleep-deprived angry Tom struggles to find time to write; for he aspires to be a poet.
Hemmed in by a clinging mother and an older sister, Tom escapes from reality to the local bars that he insisted repeatedly to his mother as a need for adventure, hence he watches all sorts of movies nightly.
His mother Amanda knows and sees this and constantly badgers Tom about smoking too much and drinking. She molly coddles him to the point that he rebels and reels back in horror everytime she tries to smother him.
Marina Tan has her southern accent down pat and played the part of Amanda Wingfield to the hilt.
Amanda can be real charming and coquettish when she wants to, fawning and falling over “gentlemen callers”.
Jaded and almost faded as an abandoned single mother left to raise her two children without help, Amanda yearns for the comforts from her youth when she was the belle of the ball. Her devotion to her children whom she calls “precious” turned her into a schemer pushing her only daughter off for marriage.
The fragile, crippling shy Laura Wingfield is played by Teoh Seoh Chen. Laura who suffered from childhood polio had to wear a leg brace when younger. As an adult she walks with a pronounced limp and falls over easily.
Even though she was not severely crippled, Laura lacked confidence and suffered from an inferiority complex over her odd weakness and becomes so sensitive that she worries about her inabilities so much so that she dropped out of her secretarial course and hides the fact from her mother.
She sees life superficially and in content hides at home habitually playing with her glass animals and listening to old records. A unicorn in her collection of glass menagerie represents Laura because it’s unique and fragile.
A FOOTBALL HERO SON-IN-LAW
Constantly nagged by his mother to find a suitable suitor for his sister, Tom decides to invite his old high-school mate, Jim O’Connor to supper.
Ivan Gabriel plays the confident cool Jim, bent on self-improvement; takes classes for public speaking with heightened interpersonal skills akin to Dale Carnegie of his era.
Jim was a popular athlete and actor during his high school days, a lad marked for success but instead he ends up working as a shipping clerk at the same shoe warehouse as Tom but earning 20 dollars more.
Amanda upon hearing about Jim began to fantasise about a possible marriage for Laura, sprucing up the apartment and dolling herself and her daughter up to ensnare the first “gentleman caller”
Amanda starts to act coquettish to relive her youth by flirting with Jim. However after dinner, a fuse blew leaving the house in darkness. Jim and Laura are left alone by candlelight in the living room, waiting for the electricity to be restored.
As it turned out Jim remembered Laura from high school and recognizes her feelings of inferiority and encourages her to think positively. He leads Laura to a quiet dance but accidentally knocks over her glass menagerie and broke the unicorn’s horn.
One thing leads to another and eventually Jim compliments and kisses Laura.
He caught himself in time to reveal that he was already engaged to be married and leaves hurriedly.
When Amanda learns that Jim is to be married, and realises that all her plans have fallen through, she cruelly lashes her anger out at Tom, blaming her son for all that has happened.
At the end of the play, Tom speaks of that night when he left home, never to return. As the lights dim, Tom bids to his mother and sister, and asks Laura to blow out the candles as the play ends.
The cast and team at PenangPac did a brilliant job bringing this play to life. Do catch the final performance at 8.30pm on 24 September 2016.
The Glass Menagerie Cast
Christopher Preslar | Tom Wingfield
Marina Tan | Amanda Wingfield
Teoh Seoh Chen | Laura Wingfield
Ivan Gabriel | Jim O’Connor
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