Light illuminates horses and a unicorn made of glass with sparkling color, putting a delicate spotlight on a subtle corner table display that is centerfold metaphorically in Backyard Theater Ensemble’s “The Glass Menagerie opening Saturday at the Thomaston Opera House.
Chet Ostroski invites us into his character, Tom’s home, narrating between drags on a cigarette under the light of an outdoor lantern. He talks about the artistry of storytelling, likening his role to that of an illusionist of truth. Ostroski presents us with two characters – a seemingly content, reflective and jubilant narrator juxtaposed and a sarcastic Tom who feels unhappy, trapped and stagnant working in a factory and putting up with his talkative, pushy, yet ultimately caring mother, Amanda (Lucia Dressel).
So, it’s not a story of nostalgia. Not all memories are pretty. But they are real and they are life.
Initially, Tom appears to be the main character, but the story really turns out to center around the meekest character, his younger sister, Laura (Nicole Thomas). She’s painfully shy and walks with a limp, hiding from the world at home and solely passionate about her glass animal collection, which her mom calls the glass menagerie.
She tells us about the only boy she ever liked, who nicknamed her “Blue Roses” in high school. Thanks to her mother’s plotting to have Tom bring home a gentleman caller for Laura from work and coincidence only seemingly possible in theater, she has the chance to reconnect with him.
Thomas is convincing in the physicality the role require in walking with a limp, but it’s not overdone and she also presents us with a timid, quaint persona as delicate as her glass menagerie.
She describes her favorite glass figurine, a unicorn, as unique from the rest and stresses to Jim O’Connor (the dimpled and dapper Matt Albert), her crush from the past, to be careful not to break it. But he does and in a sense breaks her. While she says it’s okay when its horn breaks off because it then fits in with the rest of the horses, you can see in her subtle expressions that it’s actually quite tragic, just like when O’Connor starts to make her feel happy and accepted like a “normal” girl and then breaks her heart. She may have been better on her own like a unique unicorn. The despair in her face in reaction is heartbreaking.
The play by Tennessee Williams is sheer literary artistry, so you really need to pay attention to the words because there’s a lot of symbolism in them.
Even though the stories Tom tells are more about his family dynamic and his sister, he needs to be the narrator because that’s his higher purpose. He’s not nicknamed Shakespeare for nothing. By being the narrator, he’s able to fulfill his desired role as writer.
The lighting is crucial in portraying his memories, particularly in the silhouetted scenes against stunning illuminated colored backdrops. They add character to an otherwise simple set with limited props.
Ostroski’s Tom is constantly telling his mother he’s going to the movies, but we suppose it’s not really where he goes until the early hours of the morning daily. Later on, he tells Jim that he’s sick of going to the movies, where everyone is sitting still while they watch celebrity actors doing amazing things as they’re physically going nowhere. It represents how he feels about his place in life. It’s his glass menagerie. It’s something that the audience can easily relate to – wanting to be further along in your life than you are and grappling for greater accomplishment and purpose.
How would watching a play differ from going to the movies in Tom’s eyes? Who knows. But seeing actors live does make the magic Tom references more real. And although fiction, it sends a message. So, I’d beg to differ with him. This play is thought-provoking and takes our minds on a journey.
We may be sitting still, but our minds are very actively traveling elsewhere as we analyze what a play means to us and teaches us.
This play doesn’t have a happy ending or necessarily a sad ending. It’s unresolved. That could leave the audience hanging. But that’s also life – which continues on a confusing, challenging journey even after the story is over. Our imagination and questions at the end of the play are much like the uncertainty and unpredictable nature of finding your way.
“The Glass Menagerie opens Saturday at Thomaston Opera House and runs for the next three weekends. For more information on the production and tickets, you can visit http://backyardtheater.org/upcoming-events.