Cast uses small theater to advantage during ‘The Glass Menagerie’

Junior Matthew Paris and senior Sydney Hymanson act in “The Glass Menagerie" at the Hecht Studio Theater Sunday night. Hunter Crenian // Staff Photographer

In the introduction to “The Glass Menagerie,” the narrator tells the audience that they are watching a “memory play.” The events and characters live in memory, therefore certain aspects appear better, while some appear worse. Through its creative direction and acting, the theatre department breathed new life into Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical play.

Matt Paris, a junior musical theatre major, played Tom Wingfield, the narrator and main character of the play. Tom works at a nearby factory and is the main earner of the household. He yearns for adventure, trips to the movies and opium dens every night to escape reality.

He has a strained relationship with his mother, Amanda Wingfield, played by sophomore musical theatre major Annie Zigman, but he cares dearly for his older sister, Laura, played by senior acting major Sydney Hymanson. Laura is crippled due to several illnesses. Excessively shy, she can neither work nor find a “gentleman caller.”

Toward the end of the play, Tom brings one of his friends from work, Jim O’Connor (Blake Hawthorne), home to try to connect Laura with someone.

The play begins with the four actors wearing modern clothing and carrying binders. They bring chairs with them, sit down and open their binders as if they are about to do a cast reading.

After describing the setting and each character’s role, the actors begin the first scene. As the play progresses, they all don 1930s attire, shedding modern amenities and dragging their audience into the time period.

The entirety of the play is set in the room of a tiny house. The theatre department held “The Glass Menagerie” at the Hecht Studio Theatre, the black box theater in the second floor of Hecht Residential College. Although the venue is small, it fit the setting of the play perfectly, highlighting the tight living quarters and amplifying conflicts between characters.

“I thought the family dynamics were well-embodied. The tension between Tom and his mother and their concern for Laura was very believable,” junior mechanical engineering major Danielle Coogan said after watching the play.

The overall cast was strong, but Zigman was the star of the show. She managed to play Amanda’s complex character, the source of many conflicts in the family, in an entertaining and even occasionally funny way. As the matriarch of the home, Amanda wants the best for her children, but she often comes across as overbearing, and Zigman managed to pull this off.

“The mother displayed that kind of frailty that was comparable to Blanche from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ that sense of not letting go of the old South and moving onto the dirty industrial world that Tom was working in,” Coogan said.

Isabel McGinty, a sophomore criminology and sociology major, also saw the play on Broadway and compared the two productions.

“What was the most interesting about it is that they made so many choices playing their characters in different ways than I had seen before,” McGinty said. “For example, the mother character was kind of goofy and crazy and the actress took it in a different direction. It was an interesting choice that she made. In acting, it’s about making different choices and figuring out different facets of your character that haven’t been explored yet.”

“The Glass Menagerie” underlines the difficulties of being a woman in the South during the Great Depression, especially for someone coping with personal issues. The play is based on Williams’ own life; the main character even takes his birth name, Tom.

By the end of the play, the acting and the intimate setting drew in the audience, leaving viewers shocked at the family’s final decisions. Although not a large production, this interpretation of “The Glass Menagerie” was better able to immerse viewers in the play that made Williams famous.

The last showing of “The Glass Menagerie” was 8 p.m. Sunday in Hecht Residential College.

If You Go:

“The Glass Menagerie”

Where: The Hecht Studio Theatre, 1231 Stanford Drive (on the second floor of Hecht Residential College)

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11-13.

Cost: Free, but sign-up sheets to reserve tickets are posted on the bulletin board in the Hecht Theatre Department