Sparks both dramatic and dysfunctional fly profoundly in Tennessee Williams’ landmark 1945 semi-autobiographical memory play The Glass Menagerie. However, in the event those sparks lack pizzazz, two significant safety nets typically make up for any shortcomings, which defines Xenia Area Community Theater’s presentation.
As the centerpieces of Act 2 under the direction of Mike Taint, Kristin Curby and Ben Evory, both delivering XACT debuts, are worth the wait as Laura Wingfield and Jim O’Connor, also known as the Gentleman Caller. The moment a hearty dinner concludes in the dark and Jim is asked to spend some quality time with hopelessly shy Laura by candlelight, this emotionally mild production suddenly finds its footing, enjoyably transitioning into the heartwarming and heartbreaking reunion Williams intended. In high school, the physically challenged Laura pined for All-American Jim, but her deep insecurities and his overwhelming popularity kept them from becoming more than social acquaintances. As if in a dream, after years of wondering what became of Jim, Laura finally has him all to herself, but the unexpected momentousness of the occasion and the hard truth Jim reveals about his relationship status is ultimately too much for her fragile soul to bear.
Curby, soft-spoken, believably frazzled and nicely costumed by Dee Berdine and Debra Zweber, wonderfully conveys Laura’s expressive arc from reticence (delightfully taking only a pinch of Jim’s chewing gum when offered) to acceptance (energetically recalling Jim’s glory days via her trusty yearbook and lovingly giving him a souvenir from her meaningful glass menagerie). Evory, charismatic, vibrant and sensitive, equally appeals with sharp authenticity recognizing Jim’s delicate balance of attempting to be Laura’s life coach while acknowledging the pitfalls, desires and uncertainty fueling his own topsy-turvy trajectory. In particular, Evory’s effortlessness is an extension of his knack for characterization as a recent graduate of Wright State University’s BFA film program. In fact, his excellent, humorous short film Slushie was featured on opening night of the Dayton LGBT Film Festival last fall.
As for Laura’s overbearing mother Amanda and incredibly disillusioned brother Tom, the central duo driving this landmark drama set in 1937 St. Louis, Amy Taint and Ryan Hester tussle admirably but a fundamental disconnect exists. In his XACT debut, Hester, a notably outstanding George Gibbs in Springfield Stageworks’ Our Town, certainly fares better, giving credence to Jim’s volcanic behavior and overt frustration when pushed to the breaking point and splendidly delivering his quietly reflective and poetic monologues on the deck of the SS Pennwar six years later with great maturity. Conversely, Taint inhabits Amanda with gentle, passive and comedic sensibilities, off-kilter choices diminishing the play’s electricity and Amanda’s inherently dynamic matriarchal strengths. She only rises to an impressive level of domineering authority when Amanda defiantly throws Tom out of her house and her life.
Nevertheless, thanks primarily to Mike Taint’s effective projections and delicately staging one of the greatest scenes in American playwrighting with affection and surprise bolstered by Curby and Evory’s chemistry, this Menagerie still manages to shine.
The Glass Menagerie continues through January 19 at Xenia Area Community Theater, 45 E. Second St., Xenia. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 75 minutes. Tickets are $17. For tickets or more information, call (937) 372-0516 or visit xeniaact.org.