Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 2, 2023

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, "The Glass Menagerie"

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through April 2, 2023
by C. L. Blacke

Reading this play in high school (or was it college?) did little to prepare me for the emotional response I experienced while watching Director Rand Foerster’s production of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, The Glass Menagerie. At the time, I hadn’t the life experiences nor the distance from them to fully appreciate how memories affect our lives in the present. But it’s this universal concept, what Foerster notes as “the impossibility of escaping our past”, that resonates with me.

Set in 1937 St. Louis, the story follows the bleak and tragic and sometimes humorous lives of Tom Wingfield, his physically and emotionally crippled sister Laura, and his deeply flawed mother Amanda. Williams drew on his own familial relationships in this deeply personal and autobiographical play to explore the blurred lines between illusion and truth, memory and reality, escape and freedom.

These blurred lines are reinforced by Foerster’s use of haunting, and often dissonant melodies played by violinist Ann-Marie Messbauer, shining glass figurines that contrast with a dark, heavy-set design, and timed lighting on an almost leering portrait of Mr. Wingfield, the man who abandoned his family nearly 16 years before.

However, it’s the ferocity with which Robbie Simpson (Tom) and Cate Damon (Amanda) attack their roles that brings this production to life. Tom’s long-suffering frustration and burning need to escape his hyper-critical mother is palpable. Damon’s portrayal of the faded Southern belle maddens, devastates, and even entertains the audience at every turn. Where Simpson excels at shouting, stomping, and slamming doors, Damon embodies the strength, poise, and humility of her genteel character.

Perhaps true to the notion that memory is not always reliable, I am somewhat disappointed in Abigail Milnor-Sweetser’s performance of Laura. Her simpering shyness and lumbering gait make the character appear clumsy and awkward, unlike the rare and fragile glass figurine Laura should be. Yet, audience members still hope Laura finds true love and happiness with the gentleman caller.

Tosh Foerster, the gentleman caller, conveys Jim’s good-nature, self-confidence, and relentless pursuit of personal development with a broad smile and affable charm in the brief time he is onstage. 

This production delivers what Williams himself once called the “need for understanding and tenderness and fortitude among individuals trapped by circumstance.” Through these characters, we recognize how our own memories shape reality and, because they are such a part of us, we can never truly be free from the past.