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REVIEW: Sardonic Humor in Glass Menagerie (Guthrie Theater)

Grayson DeJesus (as Jim O’Connor) and Carey Cox (as Laura Wingfield) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, now playing at the Guthrie’s Wurtele Thrust Stage in Minneapolis. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

Memories are a tricky thing. As recounted by Tom in the prologue to The Glass Menagerie, they are “sentimental, not realistic”. If you look up sentimental in Merriam-Webster, however, you’ll find that director Joseph Haj has not gone with the common definition of the term. Instead, the Guthrie’s new production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie follows the alternate: “having an excess of sentiment or sensibility”. This excess is expertly mined from opening to ending, yielding much sardonic humor.

This derisive, disdainful quality is the lifeblood and throughline of this production. Jennifer Van Dyck’s Amanda Wingfield becomes an avatar of Southern vigor and lost causes great and small, constantly grabbing at, poking, and manipulating Remy Auberjonois’ ever-more-frustrated Tom towards misdirected self-improvement. It’s really fun to watch, and laces each scene with ticking time bomb after ticking time bomb of schadenfreude and dramatic bloodsport.

Amanda Wingfield (Jennifer Van Dyck) tries to shore up the family finances while Tom Wingfield (Remy Auberjonois) tries to shore up his sanity. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

Effective sardonicism, like satire, requires a commitment to cause and character to truly resound. While the broader motions may be exaggerated by that filter of excess, Haj’s talented cast holds back from outright parody, creating a tension that wraps successive layers around action and reaction. Watch Auberjonois’s Tom tremble on the cusp of an apology and see Van Dyck’s Amanda delight in an old dress and you start to sympathize with the characters, even as you laugh at them.

As splendid as Tennessee Williams’ writing is, every production of The Glass Menagerie hinges on the Gentleman Caller scenes. Haj’s design team saves many of its choicest touches for the extended encounter between Laura (Carey Cox) and the Gentleman Caller Jim O’Connor (Grayson DeJesus) – a scene as poignant and magical in its delivery as it is, ultimately, tragic in the narrative. If Tom’s quest for his own space and privacy is the overarching narrative, this is the alternate counterpoint. Together, they’re a powerful pair.

Foreground: Carey Cox as Laura Wingfield. Background: Remy Auberjonois as Tom Wingfield and Jennifer Van Dyck as Amanda Wingfield. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

The Glass Menagerie runs through October 27 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN.

 

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and remains an occasional contributing writer for The Boston Musical Intelligencer and The Chattanoogan. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017. He was previously the Regional Governor for the National Opera Association's North Central Region.
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