Kim Tobin-Lehl loves powerful women, and her definition of power isn’t always about being in charge. Sometimes, it’s how women persevere in circumstances that would flatten those with less mettle. That’s how she views Amanda Wingfield, the protagonist of Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie, which opens 4th Wall’s 2019-2020 season.
Tobin-Lehl, the company’s co-founder and co-artistic director, plays Amanda, a single mother with adult children living through Depression- and World War II-era St. Louis. She becomes obsessed with finding a suitor for her disabled daughter Laura. The play is narrated by Tom, Amanda’s son.
“Amanda is very iconic,” says Tobin-Lehl. “She’s been deserted by husband, she’s left alone. But she’s coming out of South, where women were treated like precious little things.”
She’s not a character, explains Tobin-Lehl, who was supposed to be in the situation where she finds herself. Once a lovely debutante, known throughout her community for her gentleman callers, the change in her circumstances has pushed her into a realm she was unprepared for.
“But she still has to keep her family together,” Tobin-Lehl says. “And this story still resonates today because look—women are abandoned by their partners, there are single mothers, they are struggling—but in their deepest spirits, they are powerful, and they constantly manage to take care of those who depend on them.”
In the play, while Amanda might be attempting to keep the family together, it’s her son Tom who works in a factory to bring home the money. After Amanda’s relentless carping over wanting a suitor for Laura, who walks with a limp after surviving polio, Tom brings home Jim, a man from work. The dinner becomes the flash point of how fragile the existence of the Wingfield family is.
The play premiered in Chicago in 1944, launching Williams’ reputation as one of America’s most-celebrated playwrights. The Glass Menagerie has been a staple of the American theater scene ever since, with three Broadway revivals to date, and countless productions in regional, community, and even high school theater. Williams is known for his complicated characters and his dark look at those on the frayed edges of society. Audiences looking for a meaty, multi-level play will find it with The Glass Menagerie.
“The language in this play is beautiful,” Tobin-Lehl says. “It's some of the best writing in the American canon. But I also think people will look at Amanda, no matter what you think of her—that she’s silly, that she’s a cliché of a certain kind of woman—and see a mother, maybe even their own mother, who’s always pushing her kids. You’ve got to get an education, you’ve got to get a job. Because she looks around and thinks, who will take care of us?”
Oct. 11–Nov. 2. Tickets from $17. Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. 832-767-4991. More info and tickets at 4thwalltheatreco.com.