The Glass Menagerie is 1,000 points of light being refracted into a kaleidoscope of emotion. It will give you many feelings, big and small. You may have feelings that you don’t know where they come from and you possibly never will. The performances are so raw they will reach you on a cellular level instead of an emotional one. Basically, The Glass Menagerie may break your heart into a million tiny pieces lying on the floor of the Watermark Theatre. You may not be able to mend it until you’ve had a good cry in your car after the show.
In Watermark Theatre’s 9th season Robert Tsonos, in his 1st year as Artistic Director, introduced this classic written by Tennessee Williams who wrote his first play as a teenager in 1935. Williams was a cutting edge playwright & most widely recognized for winning two Pulitzer Prizes, with “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947) and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1955). This play, I’m told, is partly autobiographical based on his college years in St. Louis providing him with a time & place for his first masterpiece.
Tsonos also took time to thank the interns that are part of the company this season as part of their Mentorship Program. We were talking with one of the stage hands during intermission who was grateful to get some hands-on experience through this program. Another example of how much this theatre continues to care about giving back to the next generation of talent. According to the program: This is a great set for learning. The theatre is small enough to be nurturing & large enough to have processes & policies in place to keep an intern safe.
In the early moments of the first act, Gracie Finley (raised in Charlottetown, trained in London, England, Ms. Finley is best known for playing Anne Shirley at the Charlottetown Festival from 1968 to 1974 and again in 1984 and 1985, being the first Islander to play Anne. She has had numerous roles at The Watermark including The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, & Lady Markby in An Ideal Husband) pranced around the stage cleverly decorated with antique furniture (compliments to set designer William Layton who created a convincing depression era St. Louis atmosphere on this unique in-the-round stage) as she reminisced about her younger days of entertaining her multitudes of callers. In a most intense performance, she plays a mother who is extremely worried about the future for her daughter & feels as though something has got to give for better or worse. Finley in my opinion is the face of Watermark this year & gets my vote for MVP of this company.
Leah Pritchard (who has worked throughout the Atlantic provinces & helped lead Watermark Theatre’s youth theatre conservatory for the past two summers) plays Laura, a china doll of a woman who has a penchant for collection glass trinkets. In the grips of the shyness of her character often loses her composure. She displays convincingly that she lives with a disability & very low opinion of herself. I had high expectations of Pritchard’s portrayal of the sensitive, delicate Laura and I was not disappointed. Similarly, Gracie Finley did an outstanding job in her interpretation of the aged Southern Belle Amanda Wingfield. The play was the perfect vehicle for both performers and they pulled out all the stops.
Daniel Briere (who has spent the last 3 seasons at the Stratford Festival of Canada. Recent credits include Hamlet (Shakespeare Bash’d), Antony & Cleopatra, & Romeo & Juliet (Stratford Festival) makes an appearance as the much anticipated dinner guest, and Laura’s high school crush, Jim O’Connor. He is charismatic and dapper, and everything Laura deserves. The scene where Laura and Jim sit on the floor talking may be my favourite part of the show. This is where we see Laura turn into the ethereal, beautiful creature she has the potential to be. And the kiss was pretty spectacular as well.
Rounding off the cast of four, Joshua Browne’s (who has worked at IFT Theatre, Circlesnake Theatre, Theatre Gargantua & more) portrayal of Tom Wingfield is an excellent case study in how raw emotion can be conveyed just by standing still. I’m not sure what method Browne used to master the 1,000-yard stare Tom adopts, during critiques of his character by Amanda, who accused him of being as eloquent as an oyster, but it was effective. And universal. I felt scenes much like that one, between mother and son, were being played out in households all over the world in a million different languages. Often times getting poetic, the young low-wage warehouse worker spoke of magicians, late night travels, & a thirst for adventure. I must admit I was a little surprised to see him smoking on stage, but I later learned it was actually an e-cig, which is apparently acceptable indoors.
I’m not sure how much information to give about the much anticipated second half, for fear of spoilers, but it may not incorporate the ending audiences were hoping for. However, it could be the ending we needed in order to realize how invested we’ve become in the characters.
Robert Tsonos, who directed the play and is doing great so far as Duncan MacIntosh’s successor as Artistic Director for the Watermark Theatre this year did an amazing job in leading the cast and crew to create something, I hope, they will always be proud of. After the show, I think I heard Tsonos’s voice crack as he invited the audience to a reception. He seemed to be quite moved by the performance, and rightly so. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay at the reception for long. I had to go to my car and cry.
This, much like other classics over the years in Rustico, is not light theatre, although there are plenty of laughs scattered throughout the script. The lesson I took from this play is the harsh reality present early in the Twentieth Century still holds true today that if we can’t believe in ourselves we simply cannot expect anyone else to & I can totally relate to that scenario, as I’m sure many others in the audience probably could at some point in their lives. Bottom line: Great show all around. If it is not the ending audience members are hoping for, they can read A Pretty Trap by Tennessee Williams. That oughta cure what ails them!
Review by Kimberley Johnston and PL Holden. Used by permission. Originally posted on http://www.onrpei.ca.