On Stage: The Glass Menagerie at The Phoenix Theatre

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Glass Menagerie

This is a good weekend to ignore the winter weather outside and head inside to catch a top-flight local theater performance.

The Phoenix Theatre (The Phoenix Theatre at SALT Performing Arts, 1645 Art School Road, Chester Springs, https://www.thephoenixtheatrepa.com) is continuing its debut season with a production of an American classic.

Now through February 2, the Phoenix Theatre is presenting Tennessee Williams’ internationally acclaimed play, “The Glass Menagerie.”

The theatre is dedicated to re-envisioning and reinvigorating the classics, making theatre accessible and affordable for all. The Phoenix Theatre is in residence at SALT Performing Arts.

“The Glass Menagerie” is a memory play by Tennessee Williams that premiered in 1944 and catapulted Williams from obscurity to fame.

A memory play is a play in which a lead character narrates the events of the play, which are drawn from the character’s memory. The term was coined by Williams in his description of “The Glass Menagerie.”

Many memory plays feature narration throughout — such as the play adaptation of “A Christmas Story.” Others start off with a recollection made by the narrator and then move into a play without an interrupting narrator. “The Glass Menagerie” is an example of this type of memory play.

“The Glass Menagerie” has strong autobiographical elements, featuring characters based on its author, his histrionic mother, and his mentally fragile sister Laura. In writing the play, Williams drew on an earlier short story, as well as a screenplay he had written under the title of “The Gentleman Caller.”

The play premiered in Chicago in 1944. After a shaky start it was championed by Chicago critics Ashton Stevens and Claudia Cassidy, whose enthusiasm helped build audiences so the producers could move the play to Broadway where it won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award in 1945. “The Glass Menagerie” was Williams’ first successful play; he went on to become one of America’s most highly regarded playwrights.

The characters in the play are Amanda Wingfield, mother of two adult children, Tom and Laura; Laura Wingfield, a shy and introverted woman in her mid-20s; Tom Wingfield, the son who works at a mindless warehouse job and supports his family after his father left home for good (he also serves as the play’s narrator); and Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller who has dinner with the Wingfields during the second part of the play.

In the Phoenix Theatre’s production, Catherine Ogden is playing Amanda, Hannah Brannau is playing Laura, Phoenix Theatre Artistic Director Seth Reich is playing Tom Wingfield, and Ryan Cassidy is playing Jim O’Connor.

“I auditioned for the show at the beginning of last summer,” said Brannau, during a phone interview last week. “I was performing in my previous show at Philly Fringe and I received an e-mail that I got the part.

“I had read the play a lot in school but had never seen it performed live. I loved the literature of it and used in in monologues at school. Tennessee Williams is such a great writer.”

Brannau, who lives in Villanova, is a Lower Merion High alumna who graduated from St. Joseph’s University in 2015 with a degree in English Literature.

“‘The Glass Menagerie’ is a timeless story that should be told again and again,” said Brannau. “Audiences appreciate that the show has been made accessible for today. Tennessee Williams showed deep, dark family traits along with kindness.”

Audiences have been appreciating Williams’ classic work for three-quarters of a century.

“The play has been so popular for so long because Tennessee Williams did a fantastic job,” said Brannau. “This is his most autobiographical work. He brought so much of his authenticity when he shared his painful experiences with his sister and his mother.

“I love Laura. I had read this so many times in school and always felt a sense of protectiveness. She is such a fragile woman but also has inner strength.

“I love how dearly she cares about people. She does love really hard. She creates this little safe world for herself without apology. I really admire her. I’ll always root for her.”

Laura is fragile in several ways.

“Laura has very clear physical disability – cerebral palsy,” said Brannau. “She also has mental fragility. Her relationship with her mother is fraught.

“I have cerebral palsy myself. It affects pretty much every aspect of my life. It really affects my movement from waist down. I have to use a walker. Also, it makes me very sensitive to sound.”

Brannau has been a part of Acting Without Boundaries (founded by Christine Rouse in 2004) since it began. AWB is a non-profit theater group for physically disabled actors.  The organization rehearses at the Haverford School, has monthly workshops and puts on a fully staged musical every year.

According to Brannau, “I’m really grateful to be a part of this production and cast. As an actress with cerebral palsy, advocating for access and inclusion for disabled performers in theater is incredibly important to me. I’m excited to continue promoting inclusion with this show and hopefully, many more to come.”

“The Glass Menagerie” runs now through February 2 at the comfortable new performance space just down the road from Historic Yellow Springs. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for students.

Now through February 9, People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, peopleslight.org) is presenting Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children,” a 2018 Tony Award nominee for Best Play.

The Children

The play premiered in London at the Royal Court Theatre in November 2016 and on Broadway in November 2017.

Two retired nuclear physicists live a quiet life in a cottage by the sea. Outside, the world is plagued by earthquakes, tsunamis, and a nearby nuclear meltdown.

When a former colleague turns up after 40 years with a shocking request, three old friends must reckon with their shared culpability in this darkly funny disaster drama.

The event that served as the inspiration for the play was the 2011 Fukushima nuclear explosion in Japan.

Ticket prices for the production at People’s Light start at $35.

“Willkomen, bienvenue, welcome,
Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret.”

Now through February 23, the Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is presenting the well-loved musical “Cabaret.”

The classical musical opened on Broadway in 1966 and won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score.

Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings (doors 6 p.m./show, 8 p.m.) and Sunday afternoons (doors, 1 p.m./show, 3 p.m.). Tickets, which include dinner and show, are $63 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will have STACKABONES with Apache Trails on January 31 and RUST – A Tribute to Neil Young on February 1.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Florida Wayne on January 31.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) presents Strangers In The Night​,Scorpio, and Slip of the Tongue on January 31, and Good Point, Semblance, Old Sport, and The Break Plans

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Dirty Grass Players and The Sermon on January 30, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on January 31, Junior Marvin (of The Wailers): 4th Annual Bob Marley Bday Celebration with Jah People, Solomonic Sound System, Ear Me Now on February 1, and Voodoo Dead ft. Steve Kimock, Jeff Chimenti, George Porter Jr., Al Schnier, John Morgan Kimock on February 5.

Living Room at 35 East (35 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, https://thelivingroomat35east.com) hosts Christine Havrilla on January 31 and Scott McClatchy on February 1.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) presents Superunknown (Chris Cornell tribute) on January 30, The Launch on January 31, and Larry McKenna’s New Voices Cabaret featuring Rachel Redden, Lauryn Obozian, Alicia Huppman, Noelle MCleer, and Maggie Donahue on February 4.

Annenberg Center (3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, https://annenbergcenter.org/events) presents Dunedin Consort on January 29 and
Spanish Harlem Orchestra on January 31.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) features Davy Knowles on January 30, Chuck Prophet Solo with Ben Arnold on January 31, Lights Out (Four Seasons Tribute) on February 1, and Midge Ure with Cliff Hillis on February 4.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) hosts “Classic Albums Live: Tom Petty” on February 1.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) hosts The Blue Chips Trio on January 31 and the Elsa Nilsson Quartet onFebruary 1.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) presents Copstache and Jackson Howard on February 1.

The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331, www.thequeenwilmington.com) hosts Sam Grow on January 30.

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