Arts & Culture

Encore production

Clockwise from top right, Joe Eister, Kasady Riley, Christina Fountain and Jill Turnbow star in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’
Clockwise from top right, Joe Eister, Kasady Riley, Christina Fountain and Jill Turnbow star in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ PHOTO BY BRETT WHITE

Cambria’s Pewter Plough Playhouse is back. The 34-year-old theater opened with a sold-out weekend after being closed for 10 months for installation of mandated fire sprinklers.

The reopening play is a fine production of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the playwright’s birth. The classic of modern theater has been performed in many ways, but in this version, director Nehemia Persoff has created a dysfunctional family worth caring about. Each character is given depth, and the acting is excellent.

Jill Turnbow, best known for her comic roles on the Central Coast, takes a dramatic turn as Amanda Wingfield, the former southern belle who, abandoned by her husband, is struggling to survive in depression era St. Louis with her adult son, Tom, and her painfully shy and physically impaired daughter, Laura.

Amanda recalls her own past as a popular and sought-after girl and longs for Laura to find a husband. Her search for a “gentleman caller” for her daughter has become an obsession. She is often portrayed as relentlessly nagging and demanding, almost a villain. But director Persoff has tapped into Turnbow’s knack for humor just a tad—enough to give her real dimension, even a bit of sympathy. Turnbow’s performance is memorable.

Joe Eister as Tom is equally good. He serves as narrator, recalling the events we see in the play, which is believed to be based on the playwright’s own memories.

Tom, working in a shoe factory, longs to be a writer. Eister expresses Tom’s frustrations and exasperation with his mother’s nagging, and endows the poetic narration with a thoughtful sense of melancholy. He has some humorous moments in a drunken scene.

Christina Fountain gives Laura a frightened, apologetic manner, with body language turned inward as she spends her days playing with little glass animals and listening to records. Her shyness is pathological, and Fountain gives her a pathetic, but sympathetic character.

And then there’s the gentleman caller. Kasady Riley plays a young man whose own promise as a high school athlete, scholar and singer has dissolved. Riley gives him an air of self-confidence and hope, just the opposite of Laura’s outlook on life.

The set, by James Buckley and Art Van Rhyn, reflects the drab mood of the era, and appropriate bits of music are played between scenes.

I have seen this play so many times I know some of the lines by heart, and I think this is one of the most involving productions I can remember. It’s easy to make the characters one-dimensional, but the director and actors have fleshed them out. Director Persoff credits stage manager and his “girl Friday” Lori Cunningham with helping him bring the play to life.

Welcome back, Pewter Plough!