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“The Glass Menagerie” haunts and astounds at The Fulton

Zack Calhoon's Tom looks back at his life in The Fulton's "The Glass Menagerie" (Photo Courtesy of The Fulton Theatre).

Josh Rittberg

Arts and Culture Editor

Tennessee Williams’, The Glass Menagerie is a mysterious memory play that has the ability to stun and provoke conversation. The piece tells the story of Tom Wingfield (Zack Calhoon) a man who is looking back at his past life at his St. Louis apartment with his overbearing yet well-meaning mother, Amanda Wingfield (Charis Leos) and his quiet yet kind hearted sister, Laura Wingfield (Lexi Rabadi). The play is very much a collection of random memories, but the main focus of this work is Amanda’s mission and quest in finding Laura a “gentleman caller” (Andrew Kindig). What transpires are a series of events that further impact the lives of the protagonist Tom and the rest of the Wingfield family.

         Zack Calhoon is a revelation as Tom. Calhoon has a tough task in this role as he is to be simultaneously detached from the memories around him yet while also being engaged and  in the moment. The actor captures Tom’s complexity brilliantly. The cynicism the Calhoun exudes in his early monologues to the audience brings them into the action. The character of Tom is the audiences’ window into the family, and Calhoon is an intriguing and at times even heartbreaking guide. For instance, when the character tells his mother that he is going to the movies, it can be inferred through Calhoon’s closed off expression that he is probably not. Calhoon gives this complex character the pathos that Williams’ words deserve and is excellent throughout.

         As Tom’s overbearing, yet ultimately well-meaning mother, Amanda, Leos matches Calhoon’s Tom beat by beat. Leos’s Amanda is someone who wants so much of her children, yet at times just steps a little too far. This is seen the most in Leos interaction with Rabadi’s Laura. Leos’ naturally is a comedic character actress, yet in this character Leos’ uses her animated presence as a way to command attention. Even when the quiet Laura tries to drown her mother out through her prized menagerie, Leos’s imposing presence constantly interrupts Laura almost crying out for attention. This is also seen in the actress’s scenes with Calhoon’s Tom. Tom is trying to constantly escape the home, yet Amanda keeps after her son like a hawk not letting him go. Leos’ to this role also brings moments of warmth and some of her signature humor. The warmth and humor that Leos’ brings that is especially seen in the smaller dinner scenes bring some humanity to this mother and helps the audience understand why Tom and Laura are still at the house.

         Lexi Rabadi gives a delicate yet loving performance as Laura. For most of the play, Rabadi’s Laura is very quiet and closed in. The character is disabled, yet the actresses’ Laura seems almost overwhelmed by the larger than life character of Leos’ Amanda and the angst- filled Tom. When Rabadi looks longingly and affectionately into the menagerie, it is clear that these glass pieces are Laura’s escape and window outside of the real world. The innocence Rabadi brings to this acclaimed part brings much heart to the portrayal and grounds the production in a clear sense of humanity. While Tom may be the audience’s window into the play, Laura is the audience’s key into the heart of these characters’. This is especially clear in the moment where Rabadi’s Laura helps a struggling Tom literally get back on his feet after a drunken night out. Just the way Rabadi looks into Calhoon’s eyes is one of utter trust and empathy. The soul this actress breathes into this performance is beautiful and quietly heartbreaking. 

         Last, but certainly not least, Andrew Kindig is a dignified, handsome and caring gentleman caller in his performance as Jim O’ Connor. Although, he doesn’t appear until the second act, Kindig brings an everyman quality to this role that makes the character instantly relatable and likable. Kindig really astounds in his scene alone with Rabadi’s Laura. While a difficult scene for sure, with its intimate nature and long length, this one moment with these two veteran actors is so well developed and acted that it could easily be a small play in and of itself. As Jim and Laura open up to each other, the production reaches a high as the interactions between the two characters feels completely real and earned. Kindig in this sequence draws Jim as a man just trying to be kind and good to all. Although, he has a lie up his sleeve, the sheer tenderness Kindig brings to this role is utterly refreshing.

         Kevin Earley’s direction for this production manages to be complex and nuanced His direction is never flashy, but instead simply lets the excellent performances and exemplary text speak for itself. He does though add some comedic moments throughout from Leos’ performances, which add a bit more of a modern sensibility to this classic work. His comedic moments are not grand or farcical, but instead just strives to find moments of laughter in the everyday lives of these characters.

          Earley also creates moments of ambiguity or uneasiness in the moodily atmospheric lighting by Mary Lana Rice that bounces in and out of moody darks and vivid light colors like a dream or memory. Sean Cox’s three quarter thrust set design is appealing as it puts the audience right in the middle of the action, yet at times the choice to stage the show in a three quarter thrust gets a little tiresome as the audience keeps having to crane their necks to catch a peek at the dinner table scenes. Kurt Alger’s costumes are simple but stunning. They transport the audience right back to family life in the 1930s with modest dresses and clean shirts. The centerpiece in Alger’s costume pieces is Amanda’s purposefully flashy dress to see the gentleman caller. Like Amanda herself, the dress just screams to be noticed and heard. Special mention must also be given to Kaitlin Walsko’s prop design who’s titular menagerie shimmers and intrigues with a simple elegance. 

         This production is a beautiful interpretation of one of America’s arguably best theatrical works. The company and creative team all work to find the various complexities and human qualities of these characters and their world. The Fulton’s The Glass Menagerieis a delicately moving piece of art that is a welcome break from the extravagant musicals that accompany the main stage productions. The beauty of this production and play lies in its small moments, the lighting of a candle or a family dinner. Much like life itself, these small gestures carry weight as time goes on. This very idea gives this production an emotional wallop that sends audiences’ with a reminder of the power of a remarkably human play.