Powerful and poignant

From the moment middle-aged belle Amanda Wingfield appeared on stage in a ruffled cotillion dress from her youth, speaking obsessively of jonquil flowers, it was clear that a Southern Gothic treat was in store at Thursday’s opening of The Glass Menagerie. Boy, was it ever. This incredible professional co-production between Ignition Theatre and Prime Stock Theatre is a must-see at Red Deer’s Scott Block.

From the moment middle-aged belle Amanda Wingfield appeared on stage in a ruffled cotillion dress from her youth, speaking obsessively of jonquil flowers, it was clear that a Southern Gothic treat was in store at Thursday’s opening of The Glass Menagerie.

Boy, was it ever. This incredible professional co-production between Ignition Theatre and Prime Stock Theatre is a must-see at Red Deer’s Scott Block.

It contains a deliciously grotesque Tennessee Williams female character (Amanda became a prototype for A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche DuBois), and enough stultifying familial closeness to leave any individualist gasping for air.

The protagonist struggling to free himself from his claustrophobic family is Tom Wingfield, excellently played by Vancouver actor and former Red Deer College student Sebastian Kroon.

There are no false notes in Kroon’s powerful and poignant portrayal of Tom, a would-be writer labouring in a warehouse job to support his sister Laura and their mother Amanda some 16 years after being abandoned by the family patriarch.

Kroon plays every moment as if he’s living the role — which is important because the haunted character of Tom is the backbone of this story. All the action unfolds as a series of memories of his past.

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket,” Tom tells the audience. “But I’m the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

Tom snaps his fingers, stage lights flick on, and the first scene begins.

Josephine Christensen plays the excitable Amanda as an aging Queen Bee, who’s still fluttering around as the story’s heroine — at least in her own mind.

Like Tom, Amanda lives in the past, but for her it was a glorious time. She still waxes nostalgically about the day she had 17 gentlemen callers as a young debutante.

While Christensen would do well to slow her southern-accented speech for clarity, she otherwise plays a wonderfully deluded mother.

And one reason this classic 1940s play endures is because we all recognize controlling moms like her, who truly want the best for their children, but who alienate their sons and daughters by not accepting nor understanding who they really are.

Amanda doesn’t see her daughter Laura (Kirstie Gallant) the way Tom sees her — as a debilitatingly shy young woman who’s probably too emotionally fragile to sustain a romantic relationship.

Gallant puts on absolutely no affectation for her portrayal of the troubled and nervous Laura.

Although Gallant needs to speak up to be heard at moments, her character is clearly teetering on an emotional abyss. As someone incapable of affecting guile or artifice, Laura has nowhere to hide from life’s hurts and disappointments.

When Tom invites a Gentleman Caller home for dinner at Amanda’s insistence, it’s in the vain hope that providing a potential husband for his sister will help free him of his familial responsibilities.

The play’s highlight is the touching candlelit scene between Laura and the Gentleman Caller. When dinner guest Jim, played as a sunny optimist by Evan Hall, gets caught up in the moment, we understand why he finds Laura beautiful.

The play’s ending is appropriately devastating. But the drama’s surprising humour is equally memorable.

Kroon really knows how to play a frustrated son chomping at the bit for freedom. His portrayal of Tom — in particular his sarcastic delivery of a tabletop monologue about Tom’s supposed debauchery — reminds us why grown children need to leave the nest.

Director Matt Grue does a fantastic job of pacing the action and establishing the surrealistic nature of memory through interesting staging tricks, such as Tom’s control of the lights and sets.

Considering that he’s wanted to direct this play since his college years, the long wait was worth it. Grue truly does justice to Williams’ semi-autobiographical script.

Actually, everybody involved in this production, which received a standing ovation from the audience, deserves praise — including set and lighting designer Patrick Beagan, who helped create an appropriately wonky, dysfunctional atmosphere, sound designer Dustin Clark and costumer Jesslyn Miller.

You will help support excellence in local theatre by seeing The Glass Menagerie, or you can simply go because it offers a diverting, electrifying evening’s entertainment. Either way, it’s a worthy investment.

The play runs to March 21. (Tickets from ignitiontheatre.ca, Sunworks, or at the door.)

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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