Whatever else might or might not have been done right in the Theatre Factory's version of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, the company has met the most essential requirement. This production is a clear and uncluttered opportunity to experience what I consider to be the greatest play ever written.
Exploring what Williams called "plastic theater," Menagerie is a play of memory and illusion. A melancholy man, Tom, remembers his youth spent trapped in a St. Louis tenement with his lethally shy sister, Laura, and their emotionally unmoored mother, Amanda (perhaps the most exquisitely written female character in American theater). Tom's aching love for his family is in constant battle with his need to escape them, and this tension is what fuels the play.
But Menagerie isn't really about plot. It's Williams unleashing his poetry's towering ability to describe the ineffable sadness and beauty of the heartbreak of living.
No small feat, then, to put all that on stage. Thankfully, Theatre Factory director Bradford Sadler refrains from the contemporary penchant for revising or re-imagining genius works of art. He and the company simply stage the best and most authentic production within their means — and there's a lot to be said for such integrity.
All's not perfect, of course. (I've never seen a perfect production.) This is a curiously rushed reading, seemingly afraid of the stillness Williams has written into the script, and often the cast charged through and glossed over some of the heartbreak. And while the actors are of a certain quality, certainly, the ages are out of whack. (Amanda appears to be younger than her daughter's Gentleman Caller.)
Hannah Brizzi elevates Laura's sorrow to a heartrending level, even hinting that she might be culpable in her own downfall. Playing Tom, Tyson Sears hints at a tormented interior life and could go even further. And while Katya R. Shaffer is much, much too young to play Amanda, by the second act she acquires a necessary emotional weight. Joshua Milan, meanwhile, bounds into the play with all the oblivious good humor needed to make the Gentleman Caller the unintentional villain of this extraordinary work of art.