Tennessee Williams digs deep into his own history for “The Glass Menagerie”

Tennessee Williams digs deep into his own history for “The Glass Menagerie”

The Martinez Campbell Theatre is truly becoming an East Bay “go-to” theatrical venue as the quality and variety of shows continue to get better and more engaging. This past week, one of my favorite all-time dramatic masterpieces, “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, has come to full readiness on this warm and welcoming stage.

Fragile Laura (Anna-Oglesby-Smith) with mother Amanda (Shay Oglesby-Smith). Photos by Becky Doyle-Davis.

Williams, whose full name was Thomas Lanier Williams. He adopted the nickname “Tennessee” while in college.  He wrote “The Glass Menagerie,” his first financially successful play in 1945. It immediately became critically acclaimed, drawing huge audiences and winning significant awards.

Over the course of his lifetime, Williams wrote 25 full-length plays, dozens of screenplays, two novels, a novella, 60 short stories, more than 100 poems and an autobiography. He was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes and four New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards. He is widely considered the equal of Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller as a renowned theater author. In later years, Williams became deeply addicted to drugs and alcohol and ultimately died by chocking to death on a bottle cap in 1983. His father, C. C. Williams, was a domineering, abusive drunkard and womanizer, who made life painfully miserable for his withdrawn, genteel wife who was a pastor’s daughter. He continuously embarrassed his only son by referring to him as “Miss Nancy, because of his weak and sensitive nature.

Tennessee Williams digs deep into his own history for “The Glass Menagerie”
The cast of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ from left: Laura on couch; Jim O’Connor, Amanda and Tom at the table.

“The Glass Menagerie” is a memory play with strong autobiographical elements and is the play that catapulted Williams from obscurity to fame. It consists of four characters: a histrionic, domineering mother, Amanda (Shay Oglesby-Smith), still indelibly immersed in her Southern proclivities and her fragile-as-glass daughter, Laura (Anna-Oglesby-Smith), imprisoned as a painfully shy young woman suffering a schizophrenic existence and nurtured in large part by an embarrassing physical disability. The principal male figure and the story’s narrator is Amanda’s son, Tom (Carter Chastain), who supports the family by working in a shoe factory as a very low pay warehousemen–a job that he truly detests. The fourth and final addition to the story is a former high school friend and compassionate coworker, Jim O’Connor (Ariel Sandino).

Tom struggles daily with his mother’s incessant nit-picking over habits she feels are detrimental to him. His sister Laura struggles with life-long insecurities and deeply held secrets that ultimately draw her mother to the conclusion that the only avenue to secure her daughter’s future security is to find an “appropriate” potential husband for her. All of this leads to Amanda insisting that her son invite a co-worker, specifically a “suitable” non-alcoholic coworker and potential husband, to their home for dinner to meet Laura.

Tennessee Williams digs deep into his own history for “The Glass Menagerie”
Laura and her glass menagerie

This play is artfully directed by seasoned actor, director and Shelley award-winning producer Randy Anger. The mother and daughter acting team, Shay and Anna, have long wanted to play the iconic roles of Amanda and Laura and have done so in this production with poignant perfection.

Their male counterparts Carter Chastain and Jim O’Connor are seasoned actors as well and delivered sterling performances.

The creative team includes the multiple award-winning set-designer, Diane McRice and lighting designers Todd Drummond and Dave Pursley. The appropriate costumes for this production are designed and prepared by costumer, Lisa Danz.

This play is an Onstage Theater-sponsored production and co-produced with Randy Anger’s Plotline Theatre Company.

“The Glass Menagerie” continues Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through Feb.2. Ticket prices are $22 for adults and $19 for seniors and students. Purchase tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com  or call 925.350.9770.

The Campbell Theater venue is located at 636 Ward Street in Martinez, CA.

Charles Jarrett is a journalist, photographer and voice-over artist. He is a member of the San Francisco Theater Critics Circle. His reviews appear frequently in the Orinda News, Martinez Gazette and Rossmoor News. Email comments to megaline@comcast.net.