Nebraska Repertory Theatre presents 'The Glass Menagerie'
calendar icon23 Oct 2019 user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen
Lincoln, Neb.--The Nebraska Repertory Theatre presents Tennessee Williams’ timeless memory play, “The Glass Menagerie,” directed by the Rep’s Artistic Director Andy Park.
Performances are Nov. 6-17 in the Temple Building at 12th and R streets. For tickets and showtimes, visit http://www.nebraskarep.org.
The play follows the fragile Wingfield family: Tom, an aspiring poet; his painfully shy sister Laura; and their mother Amanda, a faded Southern belle.
“I think in a lot of ways the play is about illusion,” Park said. “It’s set soon after the Great Depression has hit, and all of the characters in the play seem to be living under a certain illusion or maybe even a delusion. You have Laura, who is living in the illusion of her menagerie and playing the phonograph. You have Tom, who is telling the story, who is a writer, but he is living out his sort of adventure by going to the cinema. You have Amanda, who is completely wrapped up in her past and her 17 gentleman callers. And so all of these characters are sort of trapped.”
The characters also seek “the American dream.”
“I think it was in the early 1930s that the idea of ‘the American dream’ really came into prominence,” Park said. “So the American dream is an ideal, but I think based on what Tennessee Williams does with this play, he’s sort of saying it might be the ideal, but is it attainable? And I think it’s a really good question when you have these characters who have so much working against them. How do they get their piece of this American dream?”
For the Rep’s production, the play is set on Tom’s merchant vessel.
“There’s a huge fight that happens, and Tom leaves the family and goes out and sails away, sort of like what his father did,” Park said. “There’s something kind of romantic about being on the ship and trying to get away from your family. But even though he’s on this vessel, he can’t escape the family that he left behind. He’s still haunted by those memories.”
The play is believed to have strong autobiographical elements, featuring characters based on Williams, his mother and his sister.
“Tennessee Williams’ first name was Tom, and he had a sister named Rose. Laura’s nickname in this is Blue Roses in the play, and his sister was also disabled,” Park said.
Park said audiences should expect some excellent acting performances in this production.
This is one of the great, classic plays, and the acting chops that are required to pull this off are immense,” Park said. “And we have the cast to do it.”
The cast includes professional Chicago actors Donna Steele (Amanda Wingfield) and Ben Page (Tom Wingfield) and Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film performance students Kami Cooper (Laura Wingfield) and Michael Zavodny (Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller).
“We have an incredible Laura, and that’s Kami Cooper,” Park said. “It feels like this role was written for her. Her approach is so solid, and she’s such a strong actor. She’s at a point in her training where she is ready to take something on of this magnitude, and she’s going to be extraordinary.”
Cooper, a senior performance major from Kerrville, Texas, describes her character Laura as a very shy young woman.
“Her joy and passion revolve around her collection of glass animal figurines that she refers to as her ‘glass menagerie,’” she said. “As I have been doing preparation to play Laura, I have realized that it takes a great deal of planning and thought for Laura to be ready to speak within the context of the play. She only feels the need to speak when it is absolutely necessary, which makes each of her lines so much more important. This production has already pushed me, as an actor, to look for specificity within my dialogue and movement. I have Laura to thank for that reflection.”
Cooper remembers reading “The Glass Menagerie” in high school.
“I read this play in high school, as I believe many American students do, and I remember not really ‘getting it,’” she said. “Why is this family so important? Reading Mr. Williams’ text does not do the imagery and the characters justice. I am in love with the actualization of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ on stage.”
Park also praised the skills of Zavodny.
“Michael’s nickname around here is ‘America’s boyfriend,’” Park said. “So it’s kind of perfect that he’s playing the gentleman caller. It’s a great role for him.”
Zavodny, a junior performance major from Malcolm, Nebraska, said Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller is described by Williams as a “nice, ordinary, young man.”
“One of the things I find so interesting about Jim is that so much of what he wants to see about himself is reflected in Laura’s eyes,” he said. “We learn through the story that Laura had a huge crush on Jim in high school, when she was shy, retiring and unnoticed, and he was a popular football star. She still sees Jim as her ideal, especially because he brings the normal world to her. Because she believes that he is still a hero, he believes it, too.”
The entire play builds toward Laura finally getting a gentleman caller.
“When we get to that moment, it’s going to be two of our really strong students, and they are going to hold their own,” Park said. “They are going to be amazing. I think this probably going to be one of the best-acted shows that we’ve had on the Rep stage.”
Zavodny said there is a reason that Williams is one of the most celebrated American playwrights.
“The characters he wrote are so human—damaged and flawed but with a glimmer of hope and yearning that keeps them going,” he said. “The language is rich and beautiful. Tennessee Williams’ plays are moving and beautiful to watch, and just as moving and beautiful to perform as an actor. On a personal level, this is my first major role in professional theatre, and I’m thrilled and really grateful to have this challenge and opportunity to work with and learn from other professionals in bringing this show to audiences in Lincoln.”
Both Cooper and Zavodny are candidates in the Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) Program, which earns them credits toward union membership while working on Rep productions.
“The EMC Program is one of the reasons I chose to study and train in Nebraska for my undergraduate degree,” Cooper said. “I knew going into this program that I would have opportunities not normally offered to young performers, and my expectations have been blown away. I’m graduating in the spring and because of my EMC status, I know I will have advantages when it comes to auditioning for post-graduation contracts.”
Zavodny said the Rep, as the state’s only professional regional theatre, is a tremendous resource for the theatre students in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.
“The opportunity for my classmates and me to work through the EMC program to earn points toward Actors’ Equity Association membership while we’re still in college gives us a huge advantage in breaking into the theatre working world,” he said. “That and the fact that we can show future employers that upon graduation, we already have extensive experience working with professional theatre companies, gives us that extra boost that can make the difference between rejection and getting our first big break as actors.
Park is excited for audiences to see “The Glass Menagerie.”
“It’s one of the greatest plays with the most poetic lines that you’ll ever hear,” Park said. “Tennessee Williams is one of the greatest American playwrights, and it’s about time that we featured one of his plays on the Rep main stage. I think audiences that have never seen the play will find it deeply moving and also extremely funny. Tennessee Williams is so funny, and it’s sardonic often and dark. The audience will laugh a lot during the show, which is something I think people are surprised by.”
Cooper encouraged audiences to look for the love.
“There is romance and hope scattered between the torn relationships,” she said. “A play without love is something no one enjoys watching, so look for the love, even as the characters face pain, abandonment and heartbreak. It’s that love that makes ‘The Glass Menagerie’ timeless and relevant.”