The Glass Menagerie (2006), Review

2 minutes read
The Glass Menagerie
25 May 2006, 8:00pm
2.0 out of 5


Shattered Dreams

I was left feeling that I would have had a more satisfying emotional experience just sitting at home reading the script and dreaming up the whole thing in my head.

Let me start by saying that The Glass Menagerie is quite simply my favourite script of all time. Like all Tennessee Williams' great works, it is infused with heartbreaking sadness, its tragedy being not so much around the corner as simply there the whole time in plain sight - even as characters and audience subconsciously convince themselves they cannot see or feel it. Those of his works I have read or seen have been finely crafted: indeed, just like the pieces of glass in this play, they are fragile things of great and simple beauty. The Glass Menagerie, in particular, resonates because of how Tom feels trapped by the duty he owes to his family - having to support his dependent, single mother and his shy, crippled sister while at the same time wanting to be free to live his own life as a writer. He sees in his sister both a great love and a great burden; and in his father who abandoned the family both a role model and the last thing he ever wants to be. That is a tension that many of us can relate to, especially in our culture where family ties bind so tightly that they can sometimes strangle.

I Theatre's version of this modern masterpiece disappoints because the much-ballyhooed translocation of the story from Depression-era America to post-war Singapore and the re-imagining of the family as Eurasian made no real attempt to achieve anything and merely served as a justification for the mixed race cast. The impact of the change was minimal (a few cultural references here and there) when it could have been poignant instead. This, however, was still not the most disappointing aspect of the production. 

What really let the script down was the very pedestrian and uninspired approach that director Paul Falzon took for this staging. Everything was by-the-numbers; there was nothing that I considered particularly perceptive or imaginative in his direction. The whole production just chugged along at an even pace and the emotional climaxes felt perfunctory. The cast seemed to have turned up on the night, said their lines and then (I presume) gone home. I was left feeling that I would have had a more satisfying emotional experience just sitting at home reading the script and dreaming up the whole thing in my head. 

Even the set design was not well thought out. Care had clearly gone into picking items of deep brown furniture that captured the mood of the era but this attention to detail was discordant with the fact that the set consisted only of the items that were required by the script and not a jot more. The set thus seemed curiously half-formed even as effort had clearly been made to try and get things right. This problem was exacerbated by the use of black stage curtains rather than flats to form the walls of the apartment, bringing me back instantly to the days of hobbled-together school plays. Another problem was the image of actor Gerald Chew hanging in the middle of the room; yes, the script called for a photograph of the runaway father centrestage but it worried me that neither set designer nor director realised the distracting inappropriateness of using a "celebrity" face. Chew was even credited in the cast list. If it was meant to be a joke, it wasn't funny.

The actors were generally competent but again, brought no real excitement (or indeed, chemistry) to the production. Tennessee Williams' plays are high melodramas - think of Marlon Brando shouting "Stelllahhhhh!" in A Streetcar Named Desire. There is no reason to be coy. Christina Sergeant as Amanda, the matriarch, did try to lift the play but there was only so much she could do without creating too extreme a gap between her performance and the more low-key ones from Emilie Oehlers and Timothy Nga (playing the siblings Tom and Laura). In the end, Sergeant was much more successful than the other two at drawing in the audience but still did not give her role the size it needed. Neither Oehlers nor Nga delivered performances that got under your skin despite their best efforts and Nga was not helped by the fact that he looked more like a model off the cover of Men's Health than the down-and-out, disillusioned young factory worker he was supposed to be. Paul Hannon as the gentleman caller who brings false hope (is there any other kind in Williams' work?) of security to Amanda and love to Laura was unsteady. He overplayed the comedy in quite a few places but, to be fair, his comic touch was well-handled in others and this added a nice change of tone. 

His performance at least showed thought, which was something I felt the director had not sufficiently engaged in. I left the theatre that evening feeling not so much as if I had seen as bad production as simply a pointless one. The script definitely deserved a full-bodied treatment instead of this lacklustre affair. 

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