THE GLASS MENAGERIE (Commonwealth Classic): Through the glass darkly

“Shakespeare probably wrote a poem on that light bill.”
—Jim, “the Gentleman Caller” in Tennessee Williams’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE

Isa St. Clair, Allen Radway, and E. Ashley Izard in THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Isa St. Clair, Allen Radway, and E. Ashley Izard in THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

The Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company has become known for its free, locally touring outdoor productions of, er, classic theater. It’s fitting that they chose to Tennessee Williams’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE as a piece to give a more intimate, interior production: Williams’s achingly brilliant autobiographical play is a interior examination of memory.

Tapping into the character’s longing and anger if not his loving exasperation, Allen Radway narrates the lyrical play as Tom Wingfield, a poet stuck in a warehouse job to support his fatherless family. But Commonwealth’s production hinges on E. Ashley Izard’s enthralling in-tune performance as his mother Amanda, an aging Southern Belle whose concern for her children is suffocating them.

To placate his mother’s incessant nagging, Tom has arranged for a “gentleman caller”, “up-and-coming” work colleague Jim O’Connor (Jamison Foreman) to come to dinner as a potential companion for his “sweet and pretty” but “terribly shy” sister Laura (Isa St. Claire, who overplays the social anxiety at the expense of the sweetness). Laura is crippled by a mild limp and her resulting self-enforced isolation. O’Connor’s contrasting go-get-em salesmanship and can-do optimism serves as a metaphor for the alienating business values of radio-era America.

Williams’s play works as a dimly lit peak into the past, but Tim Martin’s lighting is at times muddled instead of subtly illuminating. This might be said of Joshua Brown’s direction: The energy dims when Izard’s Amanda leaves the stage, and several poignant possibilities go unlit. But Commonwealth’s production draws the curtain on enough of the play’s window into regret to reveal the melancholy brilliance of THE GLASS MENAGERIE.

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Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.