BCT authors a worthy ‘The Glass Menagerie’

Genevieve Young and Keith Robinson in “The Glass Menagerie.” Photo: Boston Children’s Theatre

BOSTON – The Boston Children’s Theatre produces works for a wide range of young adults.

It challenges its older members by staging some of the most iconic pieces in the theatrical canon.

That includes works on the short list of the Greatest American Plays such as Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” now being performed by the BCT at the Plaza Theater of the Boston Center for the Arts.

“Menagerie” is the story of the Wingfield family, a mother and her two children struggling to survive in Depression-era St. Louis, one of many of Williams’ works influenced by his years growing up in Mississippi, first, and then St. Louis, where his parents’ marriage was strained and his father frequently absent. .

It is a memory play, seen through the eyes of Tom Wingfield (Charlie Berger), a sensitive, poetic soul in his early 20’s.

Kate Miller is Amanda Wingfield, loosely based on Williams’ own mother, a faded Southern belle who vividly – too vividly – recalls receiving 17 gentlemen callers on one Sunday afternoon back on Blue Mountain, many years before.

Charlie Berger in “The Glass Menagerie.” Photo: Boston Children’s Theatre

Time stopped for Amanda when her husband abandoned the family 16 long years ago.

Amanda struggles to deal with reality, with daughter Laura (Genevieve Young) dropping out of business school, and she is worried that Tom’s “restlessness” is a sign that he may soon be leaving home, too.

“Menagerie” is a a very difficult play, and performing it for a short run can mean by the time you’re reached a certain comfort level in the role, the run is over

Still, Charlie Berger captures the boiling resentment of Tom, stuck in a dead-end warehouse job and tasked with providing support for the entire family, resenting his mother’s unwillingness or inability to see the family’s reality for what it is.

There are times – especially during his monologues, smoking out on the terrace – when he might slow down his delivery, allowing him to accent certain words or passages to convey his wistfulness and the dreams that sustain him.

Almost every evening, Tom can be found “at the movies,” when the rest of the family – and especially Laura – know only too well where he finds refuge.

As Laura Wingfield, Young  lingers in an emotional prison, due to Amanda’s unrealistic expectations and hopes for her.

It is a delicate balancing act over how much to play her crippled leg: Underplaying or overplaying the infirmity carries the risk of turning it into a caricature. Miller effectively conveys Laura’s vulnerability and her status as a wounded, lost soul.

At a recent performance, Keith Robinson most fully realized his role as Jim O’Connor, the Gentleman Caller, the tall, handsome co-worker of Tom who accepts an invitation to dine with the Wingfields.

He is a hale fellow well-met, but for all his gifts, his job situation is only marginally better than Tom’s.

The promise portended by his high school yearbook has largely failed to materialize but he is bursting with enthusiasm about being on the ground floor when something called television arrives.

He calls Tom “Shakespeare” and Laura “Blue Roses,” the nickname he gave Laura when they were high school classmates.

Jim ever-so-briefly lifts Laura out of the self-imprisonment and reminds her of what she is missing.

Indeed, the scenes between he and as Laura are the best of he production, none more heartbreaking than the waltz that ends with a kiss, and the broken piece of glassware that will stands for her broken dreams.

One of the hallmarks of BCT productions are the professional production values by some of Boston’s most talented designers. Set designer Janie E. Howland has authored a tired apartment with equally tired furniture, despite Amanda’s little touches to try and brighten a situation, with Laura’s beloved glass menagerie front and center.

The BCT production of “The Glass Menagerie” is a worthy run at a classic. Director Burgess Clark has coaxed some strong performances and with his feedback and two shows under their belts, those who attend the performances this weekend will see the benefits.

“The Glass Menagerie” will be performed Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. At the Plaza Theatre of the Boston Center for the Arts on Tremont Street.

The Boston Children’s Theatre production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” Directed by Burgess Clark. At the Plaza Theatre of the Boston Center for the Arts through Saturday, March 16. For tickets and more information, bostonchildrenstheatre.org