One of Salvador Dali's most recognizable paintings, titled “Persistence of Memory,” is an apt description of Tennessee Williams' drama “The Glass Menagerie.” Memory functions as an overriding theme for members of the dysfunctional Wingfield family, a mother and her two children who avoid dealing with reality by escaping into their illusions.
Directed by Lyric artistic director Michael Baron, Williams' popular 1944 drama opens this week at Lyric at the Plaza. The four-person cast features Washington, D.C.-based actress Helen Hedman as family matriarch Amanda, Alex John Enterline as her son Tom, Lindsay Pittman as his sister Laura, and Dallas Lish as Laura's gentleman caller Jim.
Nearly 70 years after its Chicago premiere, “The Glass Menagerie” retains a relevancy that speaks to contemporary audiences. This compelling drama features characters who are forced to deal with issues of survival, remembrances of better times and the occasional glimmer of hope.
“Families are always relevant,” Hedman said during a break from rehearsals. “We have a lot of issues but our dreams are as strong as our illusions. Tennessee Williams happened to find a groundbreaking way to tell a story about the human condition.”
Set in St. Louis during the Depression, “The Glass Menagerie” takes place several years after Amanda's husband walks out on his family. A Southern belle who had an idyllic youth, Amanda now struggles to raise her children as a single parent.
Her daughter, Laura, had a childhood illness that left her with a limp. Like her collection of miniature glass figurines, Laura has a fragile nature and an inferiority complex that causes her to withdraw from the outside world.
“I think the menagerie is the one little escape she has, the one beautiful thing in her life,” Pittman said of her character. “It's all about her fragility and these delicate things she takes such good care of.”
Tom, an aspiring poet who struggles to support his family by working in a shoe warehouse, functions both as narrator and a participant in the play's action. Devoted to his older sister but misunderstood by his mother, Tom longs for a better life.