Theater Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE (San Francisco Playhouse)

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by Christopher Beale on May 12, 2024

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


The Glass Menagerie is likely the reason you’ve heard the name Tennessee Williams. The Glass Menagerie put Tennessee Williams on the map and led the way to American classics like A Streetcar Named Desire, Night of the Iguana, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Laura (Nicole Javier) and Amanda (Susi Damilano)
celebrate with gentleman caller Jim (William Thomas Hodgson)

Tennessee Williams himself was a complicated person, from a complicated family. And, so is Tom Wingfield (Jomar Tagatac), the lead character in The Glass Menagerie who is in an unfulfilling job, living with his highly talkative and seemingly mentally ill mother Amanda (Susi Damilano) and reclusive sister Laura (Nicole Javier). The patriarch of the Wingfield family left years ago and his existence is represented by a single, warped image hanging above the set.

Laura (Nicole Javier) watches as Tom (Jomar Tagatac) is confronted by Amanda (Susi Damilano)

The Glass Menagerie ventures to several places at once, dealing with manners, southern traditions, marriage, societal expectations, and in subtle ways, queerness. Tom is fond of Jim O’Connor, and has been since high school. Athletic, strong-willed, outspoken, tall, handsome Jim is everything you might want in a man — if you were allowed to want men. When Tom and Jim first meet on stage, you can sense a sort of tension between them, perhaps marked most prominently by the two men embracing one another while laying in bed reading together. But on this night Tom has invited Jim over to try to hook him up with Laura.

Tom (Jomar Tagatac), Jim (William Thomas Hodgson) and Amanda (Susi Damilano)
Jim (William Thomas Hodgson) kisses Laura (Nicole Javier)

Filipino-American director Jeffrey Lo has artfully staged Williams’ seminal work at San Francisco Playhouse with help from Christopher Fitzer’s clever set. Each transition is kinetic as a turntable gives us different views inside the lives, and stories on stage. The choice was made to leave the upper part of the SF Playhouse’s gold proscenium, usually hidden backstage, visible; that added some depth to the sets, but also served to make the staging slightly less immersive than it might have been otherwise. It was definitely a beautiful sight glimmering in the background. The lighting design by Wen-Ling Liao is immersive and perfectly timed, including some stunning transitions that play like magic along with James Ard’s original score and sharp sound design.

William Thomas Hodgson as Jim and Jomar Tagatac as Tom

On stage, Susi Damilano is a powerhouse with complete command of the stage around her, the first act is almost entirely monologue from aging debutante Amanda Wingfield, and on opening night Damilano didn’t miss a beat. Jomar Tagatac is smooth and believable as Tom, Nicole Javier is heartbreaking as Laura, and William Thomas Hodgson is spot on for Jim O’Connor in mannerism and style with the noted exception of the character being written white, which is addressed with a single facial expression from Hodgson that might be the funniest moment of the show.

Tom (Jomar Tagatac) listens as his mother Amanda (Susi Damilano)

The Glass Menagerie at San Francisco Playhouse is a well-produced, beautifully acted, deep dive into the mind and memories of one of America’s great playwrights.

Tom (Jomar Tagatac) makes his way through a darkened room

photos by Jessica Palopoli / San Francisco Playhouse

The Glass Menagerie
San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street in San Francisco
Tues-Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on June 15, 2024
for tickets ($30-$125), call 415.677.9596 or visit SF Playhouse

Christopher J. Beale is an award-winning journalist, media host and producer based in San Francisco, CA.

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