The Glass Menagerie review: Jim Sarbh shines in a somewhat patchy production

Could there be a better depiction of the illusion of American domestic life than Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie? Its premiere performance in 1944 catapulted Williams into the league of the greats; it narrates the happenings at the home of the Wingfields (or rather, the son’s memory of those events).

Amanda Wingfield is a faded Southern belle, whose aspirations and ideas haven’t yet caught up fully with her reality (which is a genteel poverty, having been abandoned by her husband 16 years prior to the happenings narrated); her son Tom works at a factory by day and dreams of becoming a poet by night; Tom’s sister Laura has a limp, and is painfully shy and reclusive. A menagerie of glass animals is her pride and joy. On the evening in question, Tom has asked a friend – Jim O’Connor – to drop by at his home and call on Laura, as a favour. Amanda makes much of Laura’s ‘gentleman caller’ – but of course, we know the evening isn’t going to end terribly well for the Wingfields.

Rajit Kapur brings The Glass Menagerie (2013) back to Mumbai with a stellar cast: Shernaz Patel plays Amanda Wingfield, Jim Sarbh is Tom, Laura is played by Ira Dubey and Neil Bhoopalam takes on Jim O’Connor’s role. The production soars in some parts, flails in others, and on the whole, is a lackluster rendering of one of the finest plays ever written. Among the production’s greatest strengths is Jim Sarbh’s performance.

 The Glass Menagerie review: Jim Sarbh shines in a somewhat patchy production

Jim Sarbh as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Image via Rage Productions

At a recent performance of The Glass Menagerie at the NCPA, Mumbai, Sarbh was a revelation, from his opening soliloquy to the very end. A poet crushed by the weight of responsibility, a gentle brother, a son with a fraught relationship with his mother – Sarb depicts it all. You never get the sense that he’s playing Tom – Sarbh is Tom. His very shoulders seem hunched, by the weight of all he carries. The scene in which Tom reaches boiling point, screaming at his mother that working in a warehouse was not the sum total of his life’s ambitions – he calls Amanda an “ugly, babbling old witch” – is perhaps the most striking.

Shernaz Patel as Amanda Wingfield is convincing when she’s playing the overbearing mother and not-so-convincing when recounting with nostalgia, the time when she had ’17 gentlemen callers’. ­Her disillusioned self is set in contrast to Tom’s, and Patel portrays Amanda as a deeply flawed woman oblivious/unwilling to accept that she lives in a fantastical world. Patel as Amanda shines in the second half of the play when receiving Laura’s ‘date’ – the veteran actress transforms, not just in costume, but her manner, making Amanda’s nuances and flaws even more pronounced.

It is not easy to take The Glass Menagerie from page to stage. In fact, attempting to perform any of Tennessee Williams’ plays is a gruelling task in itself. The American playwright was meticulous and left precise stage direction for each scene and each character. He dedicated the entire first page of The Glass Menagerie to detail the characters and the mise en scène.  This has its advantages and disadvantages: on the one hand, it gives the director a clear blueprint of how the play ought to look on stage and helps him/her navigate within the boundaries of the script. However, it can also act as a restriction where room for the director or actor’s creativity is clipped by what the script dictates.

With such a brilliant script, the acting has to take it to greater heights. This is where Ira Dubey’s portrayal of Laura seems uneven.

Laura’s fragility is what drives the play. The actress portraying her must make her presence felt even when not saying/doing anything.

Dubey didn’t always behave/sound like the physically and emotionally crippled Laura. Her diction is flawed as well. Dubey’s physicality of the character is unclear too. In some scenes, her limp was slight but pronounced; in others, she traversed the length of the stage without a limp. Dubey’s Laura sometimes comes across as plain weird – not the Laura of Tennessee Williams’ play. Dubey is good in the scenes where she’s shown visibly withdrawing into herself when Tom and Amanda fight, or when she meets her childhood crush Jim O’Connor – as their conversation progresses, she sheds her reticence a little and becomes more open. The quiet ease with which Dubey achieves this is admirable. As the gentleman caller O’Connor, Neil Bhoopalam is all charm.

Director Rajit Kapur sticks to the script for the most part in terms of the sets, props and lighting used. Williams’ called this a “memory play” (since it is based on Tom’s recollection of events, and not the actual events) and thus offered some creative license to the director and actor to move differently, and use the lighting to highlight ghosts of the time gone by. To a large extent, Kapur’s direction reflects this. Now if only he had brought to this production of The Glass Menagerie, a little more.

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Updated Date: Nov 16, 2017 11:51:59 IST