The Jungle Theater’s “Glass Menagerie” makes for a sometimes maddening evening. A legendary script, an excellent cast and a fine concept don’t manage to completely merge into a compelling whole. What that leaves is an evening that’s full of excellent moments but still seems less than the sum of its parts.
Those parts are excellent from beginning to end. Tennessee Williams’ memory play centers on a core trio of lost souls, all trapped together in a shabby St. Louis apartment. Son Tom narrates, looking back to when he felt trapped liked a caged animal in the tiny apartment. Making up the other two points of the triangle is faded-Southern-belle mother Amanda and lost-soul sister Laura. Amanda domineers over both of her children, while Tom rebels against this — going out every night and also planning his eventual escape.
Laura remains trapped by her disability and extreme shyness. The eventual breaking point arrives when a mutual acquaintance from high school arrives as a “gentleman caller” and briefly, oh so briefly, shows Laura the life she could have.
It’s here that the seemingly self-confident visitor, Jim, shows Laura that there is a better world for her beyond the walls of the apartment, if only she could find the strength to embrace it. (And for all his bluster, it’s clear that Jim is also trapped by his life, which appears to have peaked in high school and is now on the long slide into oblivion). Of course, moments after Jim gives a concrete sign of what Laura could enjoy, he cruelly — if inadvertently — snatches it all away with a simple, casual comment.
The two actors play the entire sequence with supreme confidence and real delicacy. Sitting near the lip of the Jungle¹s intimate stage, Hopkins and Booth move completely under the skin of their characters, showing us how special these few minutes are for the inexperienced Laura, and even the more world-weary Jim.
Maybe it’s the lack of similar sparks throughout the balance of the show that left me disappointed. All of the actors fully inhabit their characters. The production looks and sounds beautiful, but I wanted the whole show to live as completely in the moment as the above scene.
“The Glass Menagerie” runs through Oct. 17 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S. Tickets are $20 to $35. To purchase, and for more information, call 612-822-7063 or visit online.