The repertory cast at People's Light & Theatre in Malvern always gives a top professional performance, as they are doing with "The Glass Menagerie." Usually one leaves their theatre feeling exuberant. Their current play by Tennessee Williams was a Critic's Choice Winner when it was first produced, and supposedly is pretty autobiographical about Williams.Having said all that, it is a totally depressing play.

The Wingfield family consists of the impoverished mother Amanda (Marcia Saunders) who works at a low paying job, her daughter the shy crippled Laura (Elizabeth Webster Duke) who cannot work, and her son Tom (Kevin Bergen), a would-be poet caught in a dead end warehouse job supporting his mother and sister.

The three are caught in a nightmare of unfulfilled dreams, far from reality. Amanda dreams of her childhood life of ease when 17 gentlemen callers came one afternoon, and thinks her painfully shy daughter can attract a gentleman caller so she can be cared for all her life. The fact that Amanda's husband walked out leaving her to fend for herself seems to have escaped her. Laura is so shy she cannot even attend business school as she becomes so upset she throws up. She spends her time in her own little world polishing her collection of glass animals. Tom is given the task of bringing home a gentleman caller for Laura.

Tom brings home Jim O'Connor (Darren Michael Hengst), a former high school hero, and through the years the long time object of Laura's secret infatuation. She becomes so upset seeing him in person she can barely open the door and cannot force herself to come to the table for dinner.

Luckily the lights go out and Laura and Jim are forced into a conversation in the living room. Here the self absorbed Jim, who also works in the warehouse but makes $20 more a week than Tom, crushes Laura after kissing her and then telling her he is getting married in a few months.

Everyone's dreams are shattered. Amanda feels she will never get a gentleman caller for Laura and blames Tom for bringing home an engaged man, a fact he hadn't known. Laura is totally crushed, losing any self-confidence she had and Tom walks out just as his father had.

While there are some acrimonious exchanges between Amanda and Tom that are very funny, this is a grim story of fragile people who do not seem to have a way out of their stressful lives. People's light has an outstanding cast with Marcia Saunders as the self-deluded southern belle as the fluttery charming hostess. Her behavior with her family shows the rigid control she tries to keep on them. She refuses to let her limping daughter Laura use the word "crippled" and instructs her son how to eat, even though he is a grown man who supports her and his sister.

Laura is pathetic, with no self-confidence, or enough spunk to stand up to her mother or anyone else. She lives in a delusional world peopled by glass animals that are as fragile as she is.

Tom is not delusional. He can see his family clearly and wrestles whether or not to walk out on them to pursue his writing career. Like his father he sees running away as the only escape. His friend Jim, the temporary gentleman caller, is quite obtuse and insensitive. Wrapped up in his own self-improvement courses, he tries a little psychological therapy on Laura, trying to boost her self-confidence. By then cutting her down with the news that he is engaged, he makes the situation worse.

This is a classic, highly praised play that shows an aspect of some desperate lives. People's Light has a top-notch production of an important play, but it is a bit of a downer.

The show runs through March 22 with discussions after the Thursday night performances. Call 610-644-3500.

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