The Play’s The Thing As Upstream Mixes It Up For “The Glass Menagerie”

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Linda Kennedy as Amanda and J. Samuel Davis as Tom in Upstream’s “The Glass Menagerie.” Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

Color blind casting for Upstream Theatre’s Tennessee Williams’ classic “The Glass Menagerie” doesn’t affect the outcome as an outstanding cast leads us to the same powerful conclusions for the Wingfield family and the infamous “Gentleman Caller.” A few directorial changes neither help nor harm the script either- just give us a little bit different perspective.

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Linda Kennedy’s Amanda consoles her daughter Laura (Sydney Frasure) in “The Glass Menagerie” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

Director (Artistic Director of Upstream) Philip Boehm actually gives us a fairly straightforward production. He makes the Narrator Tom an older man rather than a young man reflecting on his life with his somewhat delusional mother and crippled sister, but that does nothing more than bring a few more tears to the eye in the finale. Also, his sister Laura, still suffering from the affects of pleurosis, is in a wheelchair for the entire play rather than moving around on crutches as in most standard productions. Other than that, you soon forget that mother and son are black while sister and the gentleman caller are white. Good acting crosses all color barriers.

One of our local treasures, Linda Kennedy, is nothing short of spectacular as Amanda Wingfield. Reminiscing about her days of seventeen beaus at once clamoring for her attention and the glamour of her privileged upbringing, she brings a flair of the dramatic to everything she does and says. Sashaying in her old gown (that still fits) or retelling stories about the charms of the South, she simply dazzles in the role. Her outbursts of anger mixed with this gentility are a marked contrast that she carries off with style.

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J.Samuel Davis as Tom the Narrator in Upstream Theatre’s “The Glass Menagerie.” Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

J. Samuel Davis (this year’s winner of a Circle Award for work at Upstream) also does remarkable work as Tom- both the son and the narrator. His older self hobbles on stage with a walker as he “remembers” (it is “the memory play,” after all) about his time in St. Louis with his family. So we must always keep in perspective that these are his remembrances as he struggles at a factory job while dreaming of becoming a writer. Having a poor example of a father, he struggles with the notion of leaving both women who are depended on him for both income and support while realizing that the road his father took of skipping out on family is not the honorable one. This leads him to becoming the most tragic figure in the piece.

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Jason Contini as Jim marvels at the glass unicorn of Sydney Frasure’s Laura in “The Glass Menagerie” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

As Laura, Sydney Frasure has captured the essence of the shy, almost unapproachable young girl. With her amazing gestures and telling speech, she manages to act the heck out of this role while in a wheelchair for the entire evening. And Jason Contini almost steals the acting props with his wonderful performance of Jim, the gentleman caller. He is tough and tender as his extended scene with Laura is one of the most touching moments we’ve seen on stage all year. Even in rejection (he explains he has a fiancé), he manages to come across as tender and caring.

The Michael Heil set design is effective and “handicapped” friendly for Laura’s wheelchair and makes every seat a good seat in this small black box theatre. Steve Carmichael’s lights are perfect and Laura Hanson’s costumes are equally wonderful- down to the faded glory of Amanda’s ball gown and the period look of the rest of the cast. Philip Boehm’s direction is crisp and powerful keeping the ebb and flow of the Tennessee Williams masterpiece.

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J. Samuel Davis as the Narrator (Tom) in the foreground as Linda Kennedy as Amanda and Sydney Frasure as Laura sit in the background. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

“The Glass Menagerie” is the official kick-off to the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis which encompasses plays, lecture and other programs throughout the middle of May. This Upstream Theatre production of “The Glass Menagerie” is a worthy entry into the festival which focuses mainly on women in his plays. Give Upstream Theatre a call at 314-863-4999 for tickets or more information.

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