Among the many tart, tangy pleasures of The Glass Menagerie at Cottage Theatre you can count the thrill of love at first sight — the opening glimpse of director Alan Beck’s set design. Awash in a mauve glow hinting at sepia-tones and rust, the stage becomes a diorama (or vivisection) of Tennessee Williams' fictional St. Louis flat: The apartment, and all that goes on inside, is viewed through the spiny exoskeleton of the tenement's beams and girders.
"I was hooked on the idea of an apartment morphing into a prison of the soul," says Beck, whose design —a gorgeous monstrosity of domestic entrapment and cosmopolitan creep — suggests the tension between intimacy and claustrophobia that drives so much of Williams’ work.
This scenic ingenuity alone is enough to elevate such an iconic American classic. But Beck has also gathered a talented cast to flesh out Williams' bittersweet meditation on the persistence of memory and the shattering of desperately held illusions. Kory Weimer brings urbane melancholy to Tom Wingfield, the play's narrator; as Amanda, Tom's suffocating mother, Gloria Lagalo seethes with not-so-quiet desperation; Nicole Trobaugh emanates angelic heartbreak as Tom's sister Laura; and Bob Buechler is strong as Jim, the gentleman caller.
These elements, along with some fine flourishes by Beck — snippets of old black-and-white movies, evocative original music by the director's brother, Jim Beck — make this version of The Glass Menagerie at once reverent, period-precise and idiosyncratically modern, a faithfully retelling that’s also haunted by the playwright's ghost and tinted by the director's passion.
"Menagerie has always moved me," Beck says. "If you've ever wrestled with the difference between what you dream and what you must do, Menagerie makes you re-face that difference. I think those are universal themes that will never die."
The Glass Menagerie plays through July 1 at Cottage Theatre; cottagetheatre.org or 942-2934.