‘The Glass Menagerie’
Through Feb. 21
511 10th St., N.W.
Legendary gay playwright Tennessee Williams was 33 when he burst on the national scene with “The Glass Menagerie,” his lyrical memory play set in Depression era St. Louis.
It’s the coming-of-age story of Tom Wingfield, a budding young writer who longs for adventure but instead punches a timeclock at a shoe warehouse to pay the rent on the cramped apartment he shares with his domineering mother Amanda, a faded southern belle who wants the best for her children, and his painfully shy sister, Laura. When it becomes clear that Laura is incapable of making a living, Amanda sets her sights on finding a gentleman caller, pulling a reluctant Tom into her schemes.
For local actor Tom Story, who’s gay is playing Tom in “The Glass Menagerie” at Ford’s Theatre, aspects of Williams’ semi-autobiographical play resonate, particularly the pull of family.
“My mom is not Amanda, but she is from the South and was always very involved in our lives,” he says. “There’s a point where you have to break away. I understand the frustration of trying to be something for other people that you cannot be, and not always family, necessarily.
Story grew up in Woodbridge, Va.
“I’ve loved the play since high school,” he says. “From the start, I related to the way Tom thinks. His wit and irony drew me in.”
As an undergrad at Duke University, Story’s love for Williams grew. Later at Juilliard School in New York, Michael Kahn (Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director and then-Juilliard instructor) assigned Story a Williams one act titled “I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow,” about human dependence, fear and loss.
“It was the first time onstage that I felt like I revealed something true,” Story says. “It was a big turning point for me in terms of my acting and further connected me with Williams’ writing.”
And almost 10 years ago, Story played Tom in a production at the esteemed Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Mass. When he heard Ford’s was mounting a production, Story was eager to reprise the role.
“I thought it would be interesting to approach the part from a different time in my life. Luckily they let me do it. It’s a memory play told from Tom’s point of view some years after he’s left his mother and sister. I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to pretend I’m 21. This is a man who is 40-ish going back into his past.”
Like much of Williams’ work, “The Glass Menagerie” is infused with humor. Both Tom and Amanda (here played by British actor Madeleine Potter) are wonderfully witty. From the start of rehearsals, Story says Potter was vocal about how similar the mother and son are. They both have big dreams and ideas and they’re going in different directions. They share a rye southern humor, something Story recognizes from his own family.
Included in the cast are Jenna Sokolowski as Laura and Thomas Keegan as the Gentleman Caller.
There are different ways to successfully play Tom, Story says.
“But I believe Williams wrote a clear character. Tom is gay. And whether Tom can express that using language available in the ‘30s, I’m not sure. But he definitely knows that he’s different and I think he’s on to the fact that he’s a gay man. There are clues in the script. Yes, he does go to the movies all the time, but there are a lot of things that happen at the movies.”
The production’s assistant director, out actor/director Rick Hammerly, describes Story as a “learned and instinctual” actor.
“I love this play with its flawed characters,” Hammerly says. “All are looking for something just out of reach, something they can’t quite get their hands on. It’s delicate and fragile yet strong and forceful. Story captures this duality. His character is supporting his family and dealing with sexuality. He has to leave them to survive.”