THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams, directed by Chris Abraham, with Damien Atkins, Rosemary Dunsmore, Seann Gallagher and Michelle Monteith. Presented by CanStage at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to February 26, Monday-Saturday 8 pm (except February 21-23), matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday 2 pm and February 21-25 at 1 pm. $27-$51. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Tom Wingfield, the narrator of Tennessee Williams 's classic The Glass Menagerie , tells us almost immediately that we're watching a memory. Director Chris Abraham expands on that idea in a splendidly conceived production, taking us into the recollections of four characters and conveying a sense of the pain and simmering anger that a look at the past can provoke.
Tom recalls his life at home - he's now the man of the house, his father having left for points south - with mother Amanda and sister Laura, a shy, awkward woman with a limp and a fear of almost everything outside the apartment.
The fourth character, Jim, the gentleman caller who's invited for dinner but fantasized by Amanda as a partner for Laura, doesn't appear in the script until the second act. Abraham gives him palpable life from the start, setting him high above the action on a fire escape, where he's glanced at wistfully by Tom. Every member of the family has hopes about Jim, though Tom's don't mesh with his mother's.
As the narrator who bookends the show, Damien Atkins brings a touch of bitterness and irony to Tom, a poetic figure who's constantly going out to the movies - or so he tells his mother - but who is in fact seeking experiences he can't share with his family.
Rosemary Dunsmore 's slightly seedy belle, Amanda, is steel wrapped in Southern gentility, an inveterate flirter with a high-pitched voice who never forgets her male admirers from her girlhood, even if we grow to doubt the accuracy of her memories.
Looking like an inquisitive bird, her head cocked to one side as she surveys a world she believes she can control, Dunsmore brings a kaleidoscope of tones to Amanda, sometimes making her empathetic and insufferable in a single line.
If Michelle Monteith doesn't quite crack Laura - she needs to suggest more desire beneath the shyness - she paints a needy figure as fragile as her glass menagerie. Like the others, Seann Gallagher 's robust Jim has his internalized moments in which he recalls the past; quite rightly, he and Abraham emphasize the man's natural friendliness and the honesty that ultimately hurts the Wingfields.
There are some small points that don't quite work: lines are sometimes lost in the echoing, high venue; accents come and go; there's too much of an emotional sameness in the crucial scene between Laura and Jim. But spread across the width of the Berkeley stage and lit evocatively by Luc Prairie , this Glass Menagerie glows with an internal warmth that turns to a chill as we realize that life has disappointed all four of the characters.