Cal Shakes turns to Williams with ‘Glass Menagerie’

California Shakespeare Theater is staging its first Tennessee Williams play, his quasi-autobiographical “The Glass Menagerie.”

The action takes place in a St. Louis tenement apartment during the Depression. Amanda Wingfield (Karen Aldridge) lives with her adult children, Tom (Sean San José) and Laura (Phoebe Fico). Her husband, their father, abandoned them long ago, leaving only a picture of himself and some old phonograph records.

In this memory play, the characters are decent yet flawed.

The complex Amanda chatters on about being a Southern belle with gentlemen callers. She thinks that if Laura had some gentlemen callers, all would be well. This wish has no grounding in reality.

On the other hand, she’s deeply concerned about her children and their welfare, especially given their financial straits.

Tom is the family’s sole support, working at a warehouse job he hates. He wants to leave, but he stays out of a sense of responsibility for his mother and sister.

Painfully shy and disabled, Laura plays those old records on a Victrola and cherishes her miniature glass animals – hence the play’s title.

The play’s big event is the arrival of a gentleman caller, Jim (Rafael Jordan), who works with Tom.

Amanda is all aflutter, hoping he could be the one for Laura.

At first Laura is dismayed, but she blossoms during a conversation with the affable Jim, on whom she had a crush in high school, only to be terribly disappointed.

As directed by Lisa Portes, the acting is a mixed bag. She makes San José’s Tom  too manic, especially during his opening monologue. He paces around the stage, and later, as he moves scenery, he runs. It’s overdone.

On the other hand, Aldridge’s Amanda is almost always on the mark as she repeats her stories and badgers her children. She can be over the top when she’s upset, but for good reason.

Fico, making her professional acting debut, is well cast as Laura. She uses crutches and delivers her lines as if it were hard to express herself, as is true of Laura.

Jordan is likable as Jim, the gentleman caller. He can be a braggart, but he’s unfailingly polite and sincerely interested in Laura as a person.

The set is by Annie Smart with lighting by Xavier Pierce, costumes by Raquel Barreto and sound by Brendan Aanes.

This production runs about two hours without intermission, sending some people to the restrooms.

“The Glass Menagerie” will continue through July 30 at Cal Shakes’ outdoor Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way (off Hwy. 24), Orinda. For tickets and information, call (510) 548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org.