Amanda Wingfield is an often-misunderstood woman.
That’s why Denton actress Polly Maynard decided to let the humor in the matriarch of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie bubble up to her brittle surface.
If an actress isn’t careful, she can play Amanda as a shrill raptor of a woman. The result can be a grotesque caricature of a complicated character.
“No one wants to listen to that for two hours,” Maynard said. “I don’t want to do that for two hours. I think [Williams] puts little seeds here and there that make you understand what made Amanda who she is.”
In what director Brad Speck calls Tennessee Williams’ most autobiographical play, Amanda Wingfield is a fading southern belle who landed in St. Louis with her two children. Her husband, a phone company man who traveled on the job, went on a work trip ages ago and never returned. The play is set in 1937. Amanda has reared two children. Tom is in his twenties. He’s bored senseless by his job in a shoe factory and dreams of writing a screenplay. Laura is a bit younger. She’s painfully shy and walks with a limp — the lingering effects of polio. Amanda is terrified Tom will follow in his father’s far-flung footsteps and abandon her and Laura. And she’s scared that her daughter will never marry and leave home.
“She was a single mother when it wasn’t done,” Maynard said. “It’s fear. Fear makes her do the things she does. She tells you in Act 1 ‘What else is left for us but dependency?’ She’s scared. She’s worked really hard. She’s raised two children on her own. The minute she relaxes, she’ll have to think about everything, what’s happened and what could happen.”
Chance Gibbs plays Tom, who bucks the expectations of his superiors at the factory and dreams of following his fantasies to a Hollywood writers’ room.
Gibbs, last seen on the Denton stage in the title role of Richard III, said Tom has been on his short list of dream roles for years.
“If you look up iconic roles for men, you get Richard in Richard III, Hamlet and Tom,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said he’s trying to distill Tom’s restlessness.
“I think he has a responsibility. This is at the time when men worked and women stayed at home,” Gibbs said. “He doesn’t want the responsibility, though. He does stay out all night. He does drink. I think of him as a screenwriter. But he’s not in Hollywood. He’s in the Midwest.”
Because Laura is fragile, Amanda leans on Tom harder.
“I think Tom takes the brunt of all of her blows,” Gibbs said. “He’s stuck. He feels responsible for his sister, but he wants out.”
McKenna Curtis plays the role of Laura, who is content to listen to the family’s phonograph and rearrange her beloved collection of glass animals.
“I think Laura loves her mother. I think both her and Tom think she’s a little overbearing, but they love to see her happy,” Curtis said.
Laura’s collection of crystal creatures represents her own fragility, and the family’s suspended animation. They’re living, but none of the characters feel alive in their own skin. In the end, Gibbs said Tom has to learn to live with his decisions, with Laura and their mother trapped in circumstances they didn’t invent all on their own.
“I think these are by far the most realistic characters, and it’s the most believable of [Williams’] plays,” Speck said.