By Ellen Booraem
Special to The Ellsworth American
BROOKSVILLE — In the pantheon of infuriating fictional mothers, Tennessee Williams’ Amanda Wingfield ranks high. But she’s also heart-breaking, and a production of Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” succeeds only if her actor manages to convey both of those qualities.
Bagaduce Theatre’s “Menagerie” does succeed: Director Patricia Conolly gives full rein to Amanda’s foibles but allows her to endear herself. Even Amanda’s embattled children —23-year-old aspiring writer Tom and his older sister, the painfully shy Laura — can’t help loving her.
Their play is onstage through Aug. 11 in a waterfront barn craftily set up as a professional theater.
In the uneasy 1930s, Amanda and her children live in a depressing St. Louis apartment accessible only by fire escape. Tom is languishing in a warehouse job, the family’s sole source of income, and dreams of escaping like his wayward father. Laura, lamed by “pleurosis” (pleurisy) and humiliated by the “clumping” of her leg brace in high school, has retreated to a private world peopled by her family and a collection of glass figurines, the menagerie of the title.
A Southern belle deserted by her husband, Amanda is terrified of the future, especially Laura’s. She harangues her children with memories of her girlhood “gentleman callers,” in between nagging them about table manners and the “nimble wit” required of a young lady. She rarely shuts up — if she did, she’d have to acknowledge the bleakness of her situation.
When Laura’s nerves expel her from secretarial school, Amanda vows to find her daughter a husband. She goads Tom into bringing home a “gentleman caller.” The evening does not go as planned.
Monique Fowler, the theater company’s artistic director and lead actor, plays Amanda as annoying but heroic — she simply will not give in to reality. It’s that slightly dotty courage that endears her to us. Fowler is aided by her expressive face — the calculating side-glance Amanda gives the “gentleman caller” at the dinner table, just before the lights go down between scenes, is worth the trip to Brooksville.
Lauren Elwood creates the perfect Laura: gentle, awkward, alternately befuddled and horrified by her mother’s demands on her. Her scene alone with Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller, is beautifully played, at its most poignant when Laura’s face begins to light up and we think there might be hope.
As Tom, the play’s narrator and Amanda’s son, Bryan Lescord gives us the angry frustration of a young man who can salvage his life only by deserting those he loves. His aggravation wells up as his mother’s insistent voice presses on his nerves, while his father’s wall portrait grins down at him. It’s an understated but compelling performance.
The gentleman caller turns out to be a nice guy with his own tragedies, having failed to live up to his high school promise as an athlete and public speaker. Like Amanda, he refuses to let hope die, and Carter Scott Horton gives him the right balance of sincerity and Dale Carnegie confidence.
Bagaduce Theatre is a repertory company that draws both Equity actors from away and gifted local amateurs. The barn’s setting is a spectacular expanse of fields and woods overlooking the Bagaduce River. Go early and wander a bit, maybe bring a picnic — a perfect ending to a summer’s day.
“The Glass Menagerie” is at Bagaduce Theatre (the Fowler Farm, 176 Mills Point Road, Brooksville) through Aug. 11, 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Open seating tickets are $25. Reservations/information: bagaducetheatre.com or 801-1536.