Review: ‘The Glass Menagerie’

Neil Munro, the associate director of the Shaw Festival, sets aside his customary quirks (and affectations) for a more direct approach to Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie." Starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom and Shirley Douglas as Amanda, the production's stylistically conservative framework highlights Munro's skills all the more.

Neil Munro, the associate director of the Shaw Festival, sets aside his customary quirks (and affectations) for a more direct approach to Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” Starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom and Shirley Douglas as Amanda, the production’s stylistically conservative framework highlights Munro’s skills all the more.

Proving he can hold together a production despite actors who do not always have a full grasp of their material, Munro shapes the play without tricks, relying on the work’s own rhythms and psychological energy. Indeed, without this director, this “Glass” might have shattered: The energies (not to mention the accents) of Douglas and Sutherland never quite jell.

Douglas drawls in fulsome Southern splendor, commanding the stage magnificently, while Sutherland is cynical, edgy and witty. The two sometimes seem as if they’re acting in separate productions. And Kathryn Greenwood, as Laura, seems to confuse understatement with lack of presence, at least until she meets her gentleman caller and gets the balance right. Toronto actor David Storch pulls Greenwood into some sensitive and moving moments, his intense performance the one to watch.

Williams’ still-powerful memory play drives itself, and Munro ensures a steady pace and visual interest (the backdrop, a huge screen of an Underwood typewriter, haunts the production). Designers Cameron Porteous (sets) and Kevin Lamotte (lights) create an intentionally awkward collision of off-center picture frames, furniture that dangles in the air and mood effects that heighten the atmosphere.

In one lovely scene, when Tom arrives home after an alcoholic binge, his frustrations and Laura’s longings hang in the air, unspoken but clearly communicated. This is Munro at his best, but unfortunately it’s not quite enough to make this memory play particularly memorable.

The Glass Menagerie

Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto; 1,500 seats; C$75 ($54) top

Production

A David and Ed Mirvish, National Arts Center co-presentation of the play in two acts by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Neil Munro.

Creative

Set, Cameron Porteous, lighting, Kevin Lamotte; costumes, Francois Barbeau. Opened, reviewed March 26, 1997. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Shirley Douglas (Amanda Wingfield), Kiefer Sutherland (Tom Wingfield), Kathryn Greenwood (Laura Wingfield), David Storch (Jim O'Connor).

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