Edinburgh International festival
August 5 to 20 7.30 pm August 11, 13,17, 19 at 2.30 pm August 21st at 1pm and 6pm.
This is the American Repertory Theater’s production of Tennessee Williams’ classic early play. It is a domestic drama where young Tom (Michael Esper) is working at a warehouse and lives with his mother and sister in an apartment. He is a budding writer, known to his workmates as “Shakespeare”, and he feels stifled by his home situation. His father went missing years ago, and Tom feels a strong urge to emulate him. Yet there are ties to family; he brings in the money that just about keeps the family going, but is out “at the movies” as often as possible.
His mother pressures him to bring home a “gentleman caller” for his extremely shy and somewhat disabled sister. (This is the American south in the 1930s – nearly a century away from us now.) He does bring his best mate at work, but the consequences are not what was hoped for. Sister Laura (movingly played by Kate O’Flynn) has great difficulty with strangers, and is obsessed with her collection of glass toy animals – the glass menagerie.
The strongest figure in the family is the mother, played by Cherry Jones, who has much experience in this role and who performs with great authority. Mother Amanda always knows what is best for her children, and she is an epitome of that kind of loved mother who in always doing what she believes is best can become insufferable.
This is a play in which the gay Williams does not reveal or make any reference to his sexuality, but Tom is the archetypal able outsider in the family, the brilliant cuckoo in the nest who cannot wait to fly away.
The caller, Jim, is played by Seth Numrich, as an inevitably confused but supportive friend. All the cast give very strong performances, and I was gripped even though I have seen this play many times. Kate O’Flynn gave a measured and very poignant performance, Cherry Jones an extremely powerful yet fluid one, and Michael Esper gave Tom the right mixture of filial warmth and exasperation.
I recommend this as an exploration a family relations of a particular type, and a very fine example of how the theatre can help us understand ourselves, plus a satisfying experience of subtle acting.