Syracuse Stage's The Glass Menagerie examines the fragility of family

Review: Nearing the 70 year anniversary of its premiere, Tennessee Williams' play is still just as potent and powerful in this regional production.

Life, memory, relationships. They can all be as delicate as glass, more difficult to maintain than to break.

Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, beautifully performed at Syracuse Stage, explores the fragility of the Southern Wingfield family that has already suffered through one of its parts breaking off.

It tells the story of Tom (Joseph Midyett), now the man of the house after his father left, his controlling mother Amanda (Elizabeth Hess) and his cripplingly shy sister Laura (Adriana Gaviria).

Photo: Michael Davis
Elizabeth Hess (as Amanda) and Joseph Midyett (as Tom) in the Syracuse Stage production of The Glass Menagerie.

In her poverty, Amanda becomes obsessed with finding Laura a husband despite the young girl’s agoraphobia. The Gentleman Caller (Michael Kirby) joins the cast in the second act as a representation of the hopeful outside world, which the three main characters are barred from experiencing, trapped in their own separate prisons of circumstance.

Scenic designer William Bloodgood has captured the mood of Williams’ poetic play in the set. There’s some unease when looking at the stage - doors, windows and fire escapes hang from invisible cords - but also quiet beauty and symbolism. The objects are suspended in mid-air, just like the Wingfield family. Tom, Amanda and Laura are held together by some sort of magic until one more hardship breaks the fragile spell and sends them tumbling.

The only questionable choice was the inclusion of words, like chapter titles, projected onto the stage. They serve as more of a distraction than anything. The beauty of The Glass Menagerie lies in its subtlety, which is compromised slightly when parts of the play are literally spelled out to the audience.

In the scheme of the production though, the projections are more than forgivable. The acting from Midyett is the greatest asset the play has; his Tom is both funny and tragic. Someone to sympathize with, and someone to be disappointed in. Midyett captures all sides of Tom and allows the audience to get lost in Williams’ world with his superb performance.

Gaviria and Kirby stand out as particularly talented actors as well. Gaviria captures Laura’s shy, sweet personality in the soft way she delivers her lines and the timid way she moves, as if she’s trying to disappear right before your eyes. And Kirby brings vitality and exuberance to the second act with his spot-on interpretation of The Gentleman Caller. The audience can instantly fall in love with him just as Laura did in high school.

And although Hess nails Amanda’s doting, obsessive personality in some instances — like during the scene where Amanda confronts Laura for dropping out of business school — at times Hess’ performance edges toward the comical where serious neurosis would be more effective and appropriate.

It is easy for the audience to laugh when Amanda is reciting her list of gentleman callers in her younger days at the plantation, but too much humor takes away from the real tragedy of the situation: that Amanda is so desperately miserable in the present that she can only survive by constantly reminiscing about the past, and that her obsession with finding Laura a husband is wearing on her already emotionally fragile daughter.

Although the set design and the acting are almost always mesmerizing in Syracuse Stage’s production, the real strength of this play lies in Williams’ writing. The language is just beautiful, the characters relatable.

That’s largely because The Glass Menagerie was inspired by Williams’ own family life. And although not every member of the audience has suffered through a broken home, poverty and utter hopelessness, these characters and this story are so relatable because of Williams’ personal connection to the play.

The Glass Menagerie is not decorated with elaborate costumes, set changes or over-conceptualized direction. Its dialogue is what carries it; its characters are almost all it has, so the cast can make or break it. This cast makes it deep, gut-wrenching and real.

The play runs through April 27 at Syracuse Stage. Tickets are $18-52 and can be purchased here (

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