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.
- Read an interview with Grayson DeJesus, the Gentleman Caller.
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.
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.
The Glass Menagerie runs through October 27 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN.