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Santa Clara Players Turns to Drama with “The Glass Menagerie”

“…nowadays the world is lit by lightning,” Tom Wingfield says to his sister at the end of The Glass Menagerie. “Blow out your candles, Laura….”

Perhaps the words of American playwright Tennessee Williams ring even truer today in Silicon Valley than when the drama debuted in Chicago in 1944 and on Broadway in 1945, propelling Williams to literary fame.

The Santa Clara Players (SCP) production of The Glass Menagerie runs April 26 – May 18 at the Hall Pavilion, 1511 Warburton Ave., Santa Clara, behind the Triton Museum of Art. The production is one of the community theater company’s few departures from comedy during its 57-year history.

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“I just think that we need to do a classic play from time to time, and if it happens to be a serious drama, well, maybe that will get people thinking,” said SCP producer George Doeltz.

Arcadia Conrad said that she jumped at the chance to direct The Glass Menagerie.

“This is an evening of getting to watch a vibrant take on this classic production. The acting is excellent,” said Conrad. “You will see yourself and your family in this play — for better or for worse.”

The Glass Menagerie is what Williams called “a memory play.” It is the story of the Wingfield family as remembered and narrated by Tom Wingfield. It is semi-autobiographical, inspired by Williams’ memories of his own family.

“What’s beautiful about working with a classic is that the quality of writing is so honed,” said Conrad. “Williams was a poet and a master at character analysis.”

Set in St. Louis in 1937, the story takes place entirely in the shared apartment of Amanda Wingfield; her daughter, Laura; and her son, Tom. The father, who long ago deserted the family, hovers over them as a smiling photograph on the wall. Jim O’Connor, a gentleman caller, is an outsider who both gives and shatters hope.

“We found this amazing cast. They are four of the most professional actors I’ve ever worked with in terms of their approach to the material,” said Conrad.

Gwendolyne Wagner plays the lead role of Amanda, a woman bitterly disappointed in the present. She takes solace in remembering — perhaps in rewriting — better times as a young southern belle. She worries about the future of her children and is driven to find a suitor for Laura.

For Wagner, the biggest challenge in portraying Amanda wasn’t mastering a southern accent or memorizing so many lines.

“It’s embodying an icon of classic American literature,” said Wagner.

Laura (Wolfie Lewandowski), who is in her 20s, is painfully shy, with little to say. She limps because of a childhood illness, probably polio. Too timid even to attend business school, she languishes at home listening to records and playing with her menagerie of miniature glass figurines.

Tom (Tim Garcia) is a few years younger than his sister. He supports the family by working at a shoe factory but wants to be a writer. He feels imprisoned by family responsibilities and longs for freedom — then pays the price for it.

When the gentleman caller (Jake Weissman) comes to dinner in Act II, everything changes.

Nine Canine Companions for Independence attended the April 25 dress rehearsal of The Glass Menagerie. Puppy trainer Michelle Kelsey rated the production “36 paws up.”

“It’s excellent. It’s a wonderful presentation of a classic,” said Kelsey. “It has fascinating insights from the past and of an overbearing mother.”

“What are we going to do the rest of our lives? Stay home and watch the parades go by?” laments Amanda when faced with disappointment early in the drama. “What is there left but dependency all our lives?”

For SCP ticket information, visit www.scplayers.org. SCP’s summer production is The Golden Years, a collection of one-act plays about people of a “certain age.”

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