Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Glass Menagerie
Fountain Hills Theater
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Sound of Music, Veronica's Room, Funny Girl, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Noises Off


Quinn Johnson and Shari Watts
Photo by Patty Torrilhon
Tennessee Williams' autobiographical "memory play" The Glass Menagerie is an emotional and captivating drama that delves into the dynamics of a family that includes a dominating mother who only wants the best for her two children. With a mesmerizing performance by Shari Watts, aided by a trio of talented actors and sure-footed direction, Fountain Hills Theater's production of this classic is a must see.

Williams' play is narrated by Tom Wingfield, the dreamer son of faded Southern belle Amanda and brother to the shy and sensitive Laura. Set in the 1930s, sixteen years after Amanda's husband abandoned her and their children, the play focuses on a period of a few days including the night when a gentleman caller comes to visit the Wingfield house.

The Glass Menagerie looks back at one tragic moment in the past and shows how Tom's incisive recollections of regret are the result of the combination of responsibility and family dysfunction that can ultimately force someone to flee. Williams modeled Tom on himself and Laura on his sister Rose. There is an inherit sense of judgement mixed with compassion in his realistic characters and natural dialogue. The Glass Menagerie was the play that put Williams on the map and, while it may not be as well crafted as A Streetcar Named Desire or as shocking as Suddenly Last Summer, it is a passionate, personal piece that is full of intimacy, which works well for the small Fountain Hills space.

Under Ben Tyler's assured direction the cast deliver well thought out, layered and truthful portrayals. Shari Watts is luminous as the talkative, hovering and pestering Amanda. Watts' performance makes it easy to see how Amanda's desperate grasps, controlling nature, and domineering self-pity force her children to keep things hidden from her and seek some form of escape from her suffocating nature. Watts makes us clearly see that while Amanda is smothering and sufferable she isn't a monster but simply a woman who is trying to ensure her children don't suffer the way she did by a bad choice she made in her past. I've seen Watts in numerous productions across the Valley and she never fails to impress with her well thought out, honest, and always exceptional performances.

Quinn Johnson and Shannon Phelps are very good as Tom and Laura. Johnson does well with his narration that shows how Tom is restless, conflicted and tormented and how the scars from his past are always present. He holds his own with Watts in the many confrontational moments their characters have and he clearly represents the pain and suffering that are behind the decisions and actions that Tom makes. Phelps is perfect as the self-conscious, damaged, fragile and shy Laura, who has a limp and seeks comfort in her collection of miniature glass figurines. Jack Lambert is sensational as Jim, the gentleman caller, an energetic, polite man who comes over for dinner. The scene that Phelps and Lambert share is full of heart yet also heartbreaking.

Jeff Blake's set design does well to portray the enclosed, claustrophobic feel in the apartment that forces Tom to continually seek solace and peace elsewhere. Patricia Tonzi's costumes are stunning representations of the period, and the evocative lighting design by Peter J. Hill echoes the shadows of the past that the play represents. My one quibble with the creative elements has to do with the music that is used throughout the play. While the pieces used to represent the music coming from a nearby dance hall are superb, the instrumental music used to underscore a few moments and for scene changes is repeated so many times that it becomes a bit of a distraction.

The Glass Menagerie is a simple yet captivating and moving story filled with a heightened sense of melancholy and compassion. Fountain Hills delivers an intoxicating combination of superb performances and clear and concise direction which results in a superb and sensitive production of this classic Tennessee Williams play.

Fountain Hills Theater's production of The Glass Menagerie runs through October 30th, 2016, with performances at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd. in Fountain Hills. Information on tickets can be found at www.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.

Director: Ben Tyler
Stage Manager: Sharla Curtis
Producer/Costumer: Patricia Tonzi
Properties: Sharla Curtis & Patricia Tonzi
Set Design: Jeff Blake
Lighting Design: Peter J. Hill
Sound/Projection Design: Todd Carrie
Hair & Makeup: Patsy Johnson & Marybeth Ingram

Cast:
Amanda Wingfield: Shari Watts
Laura Wingfield: Shannon Phelps
Tom Wingfield: Quinn Johnson
Jim: Jack Lambert


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