Tom Wingfield drunkenly stumbles home to the small apartment he shares with his mother and sister. He's been at the "movies," his euphemism for debauchery. When his mother confronts him about his behavior, he loses his temper and begins to expose his family's buried tensions in Anthony Bean Community Theater's production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie.
The Glass Menagerie is a memory play framed by a narrating older Tom (Albert Aubry) reflecting on past events. As a young woman, Amanda Wingfield (Gwendolyne Foxworth) married a charming man, who moved her from her high society life in New Orleans to Missouri. Eventually, her husband — who is represented in the show by an illuminated photo — abandoned Amanda and their two children Tom and Laura. Now in their twenties, the siblings are complete opposites: Tom (Dwight Clay) is as adventurous as Laura (Coti Gayles) is docile — but they both worry their mother to no end.
Amanda dwells on past glory, mentioning a time when she had "17 gentleman callers." As the matriarch, Foxworth gives an outstanding performance; Amanda is constantly on the verge of cracking but her survival instincts won't let her break down. Foxworth embodies a woman who's accustomed to getting her way, but in old age, she has a harder time forcing her will upon others. Amanda seems to be crushing her children, but Foxworth gives nuance to a character who's ultimately dealing with shaken trust and disappointment. She dreamed of a bigger life than she has in their small apartment, where the show takes place.
The production moves the show's setting to New Orleans and from the 1930s to the 1950s, which is seen through cultural references such as talk about baseball player Jackie Robinson. This adjustment makes sense as the show's cast is African-American, and that allows the show to focus on personal dynamics in a workable social context.
The younger Tom wants adventure, but since his father left town, he has to support the family by working at a factory. As Tom, Clay gives a steady, strong performance. Clay reigns in his energy to make Tom relatable as he struggles with his rebellious desires.
Laura's insecurity is debilitating, and she barely goes out in public. Gayles shows emotional vulnerability, crying often and shrinking whenever anyone offers a compliment.
Amanda and Tom set up a dinner with Laura's first "gentleman caller" (DC Paul), so, her mother hopes, she can get married and find security. In this show, family, like the Winfields' small apartment, means confinement and sacrifice, and all the Wingfields struggle to get what they want.
Director Janet Spencer kept the show focused and evenly paced with smooth transitions from scene to scene. At times, however, actors had to work to be heard over the show's music.
The Glass Menagerie was Williams' first major successful play. Through solid acting and direction, this production continues the show's legacy.