The Glass Menagerie is a beautiful penning by Tennessee Williams.
The classic tale is about sibling love and family dysfunction with strong autobiographical elements, as the characters are based on the author, his histrionic mother, and his mentally fragile sister Laura.
Glass Menagerie challenges the skills of a great writer and a fantastic director to give the audience a perspective of the human condition they have never before conceived. I was particularly taken with the painful harshness and the awkward familiarity of a mother (ahem, African mother) who ties a string to your peace. Either by making it your responsibility to heal a family broken before your time by the departure of a father, or by blaming you for your inability to do it correctly.
From a writer’s perspective, it was brilliant to watch a play where the characters so starkly varied each other on and off the page. The mother of our family, ‘Amanda Wingfield‘ (Lesley Ewen), embodied her life, past, present and future so beautifully that her incessant chat, suggestions, instructions, anger, gaiety, and apparent madness all made sense of the fallen Belle of the South who chose wrong when she had her pick and is consumed with the prayer of getting it right for her two children though she does not have the means nor method to do so. She annoys, amuses and breaks our hearts in turn because we understand and believe her condition, whether or not we condone it.
Her painfully shy, almost chronically so, daughter played by newcomer Naima Swaleh is the foundation we cannot look away from or forget. Try as she might hide herself at all times, this just brings her performance to the fore so that we constantly see the effect of the family dynamics in her face and body. She is equal parts innocent child, lovestruck teenager and responsible adult seamlessly and with perfect flow. Swaleh is incredible to watch and a force to keep track of for the future.
As our guide through the play and the catalyst for change, ‘Tom Wingfield‘ played expertly and with pure honesty by Michael Abubakar, is Williams embodied. His performance is truly a tour de force but by no means is he alone on stage in this characteristic.
The set design was extremely intelligent, giving the ability of a porch, a staircase and a journey while being well apportioned to signal the 1930s. Rebecca Brower should be commended for how well thought out and well used this set was made to be.
There is an overarching heartbreak worth highlighting in the set of plays set in the 1930s – 1950s in America, based on the turn of the century and the modern industrial revolution, that I always seek. I want it to make me grateful for the time period I was born into, where I am not dependent on a man to ultimately provide security, as is the case for gentle, sweet Laura in this play. Director, Femi Elufowoju Jr. soundly and utterly delivers this melancholy and so hats off to him for his continued ability to wring our emotions with his work.
It also pleases me that we are looking at a black family dealing with the loss of being a landed family and struggling for a place in society. It opens up a discussion which should educate the masses that black people did also own lands and plantations and servants at a time and were not all slaves or children of slaves.
This is a show worth seeing.
The Glass Menagerie runs at the Arcola Theatre until the 13th July. Find out more and book tickets here.