David Abrams Illuminates Tennessee Williams’ Masterpiece Family Drama
by Lynne Stevens
“The Glass Menagerie,” a play for the Ages, will never go out of style. So long as people feel they are misfits or lack confidence or have unfulfilled dreams, Tennessee Williams’ play will offer hope. Well done, Ross Valley Players!
Watching this play can be an excruciating experience. Aging Southern Belle Amanda Wingfield, beautifully played by Tamar Cohn, is so intimidating that by the intermission you’ll hate her. Cohn’s Amanda brutally browbeats her aspiring poet son Tom (brooding David Abrams). Her self-centered rants drive him round the bend.
In their cramped Saint Louis apartment, Tom sits at the typewriter one evening trying to write something. But Amanda cannot stop correcting his posture. We sense Williams writing about his own struggles to become a writer. The playwright labored unknown until age 33 when he had his first great success with “The Glass Menagerie.”
Abrams plays Tom as narrator, remembering the cruel fascism of the 30s Spanish Civil War. Sound Designer Billie Cox skillfully provides distant sounds of planes and bombing that resonate in “otherwise peaceful cities such as Chicago, Cleveland and Saint Louis,” a prelude to World War II.
Williams has created his “memory play” in the small, dimly lit apartment, with a fire escape off a squalid alleys among other tenements. Set Designer Tom O’Brien artfully creates a poignant, spare tableau.
Tom spends half his time on the fire escape to retreat from Amanda’s taunts. He stays out late “at the movies,” implying that he is either drinking or gay. Tom’s smoldering disputes with Amanda keep us on the edge of our seats every time they flare up.
The tiny kitchenette and a sofa bed in the living room show the 30s Depression in grim detail. Tom’s oppressed sister Laura (soulful Tina Traboulsi) sleeps on that sofa, hiding in the world of her collection of tiny glass animals.
Amanda harps about table manners, reliving her days of being courted as a “Southern Belle.” Cohn perfectly embodies Amanda’s suffocating nostalgia and possessiveness.
In the 40s, a woman absolutely needed the security of marriage. Sister Laura is clearly failing to make a life or get a job, so Amanda expects Tom to rescue them–more reason for the son to escape.
After much prodding from Amanda, Tom brings home Jim O’Connor (compelling Jesse Lumb). But she cannot control herself. Amanda dresses herself up in a gown and plays the coquette. Costume Designer Michael A. Berg does a terrific job–from Tom’s Marlon Brando look to Jim’s up-and-coming business style, to Laura’s plain Jane dresses.
In a moment of giddy dancing, Laura and Jim knock her tiny glass unicorn off the table and break its horn. Rather than falling apart, Laura overcomes her paralyzing shyness, saying, “Now he will feel more at home with the other horses, the ones that don’t have horns.”
Director Abrams draws out excellent, subtle performances from each actor. This memorable menagerie of characters leaves us nodding our heads in understanding. Be sure to see it.
“The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, directed by David Abrams, at Ross Valley Players. Info: RossValleyPlayers.com – to October 14, 2023
Cast: Tamar Cohn, Jesse Lumb, Tina Traboulsi, and David Abrams.
Banner photo: Tamar Cohn (Amanda) & David Abrams (Tom). Photos by Robin Jackson