TAMPA — Last season, Emilia Sargent had a triumph as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire with Tampa Repertory Theatre, so this season the company decided to bring her back as another classic Tennessee Williams heroine, Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie.
You might wonder if putting on two such familiar plays in consecutive seasons was going to the well once too often, but any doubt is quickly banished by Sargent's incomparable performance as Amanda, who is a more sympathetic figure than Blanche. Both are demented Southern belles, of course, but Amanda never seems delusional or pathetic, and Sargent captures her devotion to her children, as well as her essential spunk. Amid all his wistful poetics, Williams was a brilliant comic writer, and the scenes when Sargent lays on the charm as Amanda tirelessly peddles subscriptions to The Homemakers' Companion over the phone are hilarious. She's like one of those indomitable divas from a Douglas Sirk movie (though Sirk movies like Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life owed plenty to Williams).
Sargent is joined by a fine cast, especially Jon Gennari as Amanda's restless son, Tom, whose monologues frame the play as a lament for his handicapped sister, Laura (Maggie Mularz), and her own little world of glass figurines. Gennari makes Tom's hunger to get out into the world beyond their apartment thrillingly palpable, and the fights between him and Sargent over his constant moviegoing are perfect in their exasperating discontent. And then their scene on the fire escape, when Amanda wishes upon the moon for "success and happiness for my precious children," is an exquisite, loving moment.
Amanda also wishes for a gentleman caller for Laura, and she finally gets one in Jim, played with brash, go-getting bravado by Dan Rosenstrauch. Mularz's mousey little Laura seems virtually comatose at first, but she gradually, believably comes out of her shell in the second act, dancing an awkward waltz with Jim. It's heartbreaking when Laura blows out the candles to end the play.
As Tom says in his opening speech, The Glass Menagerie is a "memory play," and there is a gauzy, dreamlike quality to director C. David Frankel's simple production. For example, per Williams' stage instructions, when Amanda, Laura and Tom have dinner, they mime gestures of serving and eating the food with imaginary utensils. The delicate, haunting music is by Igor Santos.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.