Ignition and Prime Stock hit the mark with The Glass Menagerie

There are all kinds of powerful, moving moments in The Glass Menagerie – currently being staged jointly by Ignition Theatre and Prime Stock Theatre at the Scott Block.

The Tennessee Williams classic features a stellar cast, a terrific set; haunting, compelling lighting and sound design and masterful direction by Ignition’s artistic director Matt Grue.

Performances run through March 21st at the Scott Block, with curtain at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at Sunworks or online at www.ignitiontheatre.ca.

The story follows the Wingfield family – caught in their own tragic circumstances. Amanda (played to perfection by Josephine Christensen) is the matriarch – a painfully overbearing, nagging one-time charmer of a ‘southern belle’ who lives in continual illusion about life, about the states of her children and about her own experiences.

Her husband deserted the family years earlier, leaving her with son Tom (Sebastian Kroon) and daughter Laura, played with a stunning sensitivity by Kirstie Gallant.

Kroon is also exceptional – balancing his growing rage at his mother’s blatant manipulation with his concern for his fragile sister’s mental and emotional state.

Laura, who is crippled, is a study in insecurity and paralyzing fear. She is stuck in a prison of a life under the suffocating reign of Amanda and an absolute lack of meaningful options.

This of course fuels Amanda’s determination to find a suitable ‘gentleman caller’ for Laura, who is of course terror-struck at the thought.

But Tom eventually brings a candidate to the house whose unintended and explosive impact on this family is – well, you just have to see the play to find out.

Suffice it to say that Evan Hall, who plays the ‘gentleman caller’ is certainly up to the task of providing the perfect amount of charm, simplicity and naiveté to his character’s perspective.

The Glass Menagerie made its premier in the mid-1940s and, to that end, effectively mirrors that time in American history as well.

There clearly wasn’t a whole lot for families to fall back on when a spouse decided to up and head to the sunny, seductive beaches of Mexico, for example.

Getting by, even sparingly, was no easy feat for many as a result. People were often very limited in what they could achieve, unless they were awash in money.

Tom, for example, is caught in a dead-end job but doesn’t have the opportunity or time to explore other options – the raw practicality of providing the basics won’t allow it.

Kroon nicely captures Tom’s sense of desperation – he is an unfulfilled man and his suffocating mother’s expectations and demands heighten his rage.

Laura couldn’t be more different.

The young woman lives day to day in unhappiness and excruciating anxiety.

Gallant exceptionally captures her character’s brokenness.

There are moments in the story when Laura is literally and heartbreakingly shattered, and it’s hard to think of someone more capable of capturing such devastation more aptly than Gallant.

Christensen, meanwhile, is a marvel at how she nails Amanda’s obnoxious unpleasantness.

She also never stops talking, and it’s usually about herself.

Simply put, she’s almost unbearable.

But there are glints of vulnerability. Christensen brings the character to life in such a robust, convincing way, and it’s quite amazing to watch.

Of course, there are lots of creative people behind the scenes whose artistry fuels what’s onstage. Dustin Clark works his magic with sound design, and the same goes for Patrick Beagan who is at the head of set and lighting design. The world this family inhabits feels so closed in, dark, oppressive and ‘irregular’ – elements that have been cleverly blended into the set itself.

The Glass Menagerie, for all its enduring status, isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t move overly briskly, and the script lingers at certain stages just a bit too long.

I found Laura’s encounter with her newfound male friend moving, but it was a bit stretched out, for example.

That took some of the momentum out of things, in my view.

Then again, we live in a very different time from when this play was penned. We are used to shots of entertainment that typically charge ahead from scene to scene to scene. The Glass Menagerie is more meticulous than that; audiences have to soak up the carefully-rendered performances, and reflect in perhaps a gentler way on the layers of drama and feeling they are witnessing.

It’s not always the easy thing to do, but it is rewarding in the end.

Of course, it’s a matter of taste. But there’s no doubt Ignition and Prime Stock are serving up something people have been hungry for – the show has been garnering virtually nothing but praise around the City.

And really, it’s very much deserved.