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Rose Riley and Harry Greenwood. All images: Brett Boardman.

THEATRE: 1 OCTOBER 2014

By JOHN ROZENTALS

The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams | Directed by Eamon Flack

Belvoir | Belvoir Upstairs, Surry Hills, Sydney | Until 2 November

Even from some distance away I could hear gnashing of teeth from fellow Oz Baby Boomers reviewer Sandra Bowden at having missed probably her favourite actor, Luke Mullins, in this splendid production.

Anyway, her absence was definitely my gain and I have added The Glass Menagerie to a very short list of best plays I have seen this year. It really is that good and all theatre lovers should try to see it over the next month.

For a youngish Tennessee Williams — he was 33 when it was first performed — it represented the grand breakthrough that eventually had him hailed as one of America’s greatest-ever playwrights.

It’s also an intensely autobiographical piece of writing. Other Desert Cities, which I saw recently at Ensemble Theatre, dealt with the sensitive issue of basing a story around family members.

One can only wonder how Williams’ mother Edwina and sister Rose, who eventually had a badly botched lobotomy, felt about having their lives so obviously played out on the stage.

Tom Wingfield (Luke Mullins) works in a warehouse and lives in a small, drab apartment with his single mother Amanda (Pamela Rabe) and desperately shy older sister Laura (Rose Riley), who has been studying to be a secretary but really spends most of her time tending to a collection of small, fragile glass animals.

It isn’t a great life, but all three have hopes of achieving something better.

For Amanda, a faded southern belle, it centres of attracting a ‘Gentleman Caller’ who will whisk Laura to the alter. He arrives in the form of Jim O’Connor (Harry Greenwood), an old and popular high-school acquaintance of Tom and Laura. But one who has failed to achieve expectations.

A fifth character, Tom’s absentee father, exists only as a portrait on the wall but nevertheless is a potent presence.

Under Eamon Flack’s diligent and skilful direction, all four actors turn in great performances, but I’d single out Rabe as absolutely outstanding in one of the great roles for women.

She plays perfectly the desperate dreamer whose dreams have never materialised.

Mullins, too, is excellent as Tom, who seeks solace from his boredom at the movies. The look on his face when Amanda enters wearing a much too revealing and youthful frock will stay with me for a long time.

And a special mention to set designer Michael Harkin for the very clever instillation of a gauze curtain separating the set into two portions and for the brilliant use of two video screens allowing Mullins, as narrator to show close ups of actors' faces.

As other reviewers have noted, Belvoir has had a bit of up-and-down period over the past year or so, but its production of The Glass Menagerie has certainly gone a long way to answering any questioning of form.

Pamela Rabe, Rose Riley and Luke Mullins.

Pamela Rabe and Rose Riley.

Luke Mullins.