Kent County Theatre Guild mines memory in ‘The Glass Menagerie’

DOVER –– For David Wharff, directing “The Glass Menagerie” for the Kent County Theatre Guild is about more than reviving a Tennessee Williams classic; it’s about savoring memories.

“This is a play based on memories and memories like in the play are often fragmented and I wanted to highlight the importance of memories because it’s something a lot of people take for granted,” Mr. Wharff said.

A specific group of people often suffer memory loss or troubles –– those who have sustained a brain aneurysm. Mr.

Cat Timko, as the disabled Laura Wingfield, looks at her collection of toy animals, including a unicorn, in the Kent County Theatre Guild’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” The play starts tonight at Dover’s Patchwork Playhouse. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Cat Timko, as the disabled Laura Wingfield, looks at her collection of toy animals, including a unicorn, in the Kent County Theatre Guild’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” The play starts tonight at Dover’s Patchwork Playhouse. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Wharff suffered a brain aneurysm that forced him to retire early, but luckily his memory wasn’t damaged to the extent of most patients.

“An extra element is that September is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month so the timing is also perfect,” he said.

In “The Glass Menagerie,” Southern matriarch Amanda Wingfield frets constantly over her two live-in adult children — the shy Laura and her restless poet brother, Tom.

One day, Tom brings home a possible suitor for Laura, which casts a shadow on Amanda’s dreams for both her children.

Mr. Wharff has been working with Kent County Theatre Guild on and off for about 40 years working on a wide array of shows in varying capacities. But as director, he has the most artistic freedom.

He chose to incorporate the fragmented theme into the set design, taking into careful consideration where each piece of furniture, every prop and all of the characters are positioned.

“I’ve seen the play before and each set is a little different and I had a good time designing this and it might even change a little before opening night,” Mr. Wharff said during Monday’s rehearsal.

As for the characters, there are only four to take into consideration.

Featuring only four actors in the play, which opens tonight at the Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse in Dover, could have made for a difficult casting process but Mr. Wharff said he found what he was looking for easily.

“I had a strong idea of what I wanted for each character and I was lucky to find four actors who lived up to what I had imagined for each role,” he said.

Patti Gatto, portraying Amanda, said this is one of the more difficult roles in which she’s been cast during her 20 years with the Kent County Theatre Guild.

“I was a little afraid of this character because in my opinion, she’s one of the best characters there’s been. She’s a challenge but a good one,” she said.

John Muller as Tom Wingfield and Patti Gatto as his overprotective mother Amanda Wingfield stand on their fire escape in a scene from “The Glass Menagerie”.

John Muller as Tom Wingfield and Patti Gatto as his overprotective mother Amanda Wingfield stand on their fire escape in a scene from “The Glass Menagerie”.

“One thing I do really like about playing Amanda is the play is a story that is about a real family. You get to see them, warts and all, so it allows me to develop a truly three-dimensional character.”

Cat Timko, who plays Laura, agreed that “The Glass Menagerie” is one of her more difficult roles, not to mention the limp her character has for the duration of the performance.

“This is one of the few classics I’ve done and it’s a drama and they’re always the most challenging,” she said. “When you’re doing a drama, you have to always be in character because in a comedy, if you break character, it’s easy to get back into it, but it’s totally different in a drama.”

Tom, the narrator of the play, through whose memories the play is told, is also a difficult, unusual character for actor John Muller.

“It’s a new kind of role for me; I’m usually the punchline guy that comes in with a few lines here and there but in this role, I have a few monologues and they’re all very serious,” he said.

Despite the challenging nature of the play, all four actors are in it together.

“There’s a plus and minus to having such a small cast,” Mr. Muller said. “The plus is that we all support one another but the downside is that a quarter of the show is on your shoulders.”

The cast, which also includes James Muzzy, who plays Laura’s suitor Jim O’Connor, also appreciates the fact that

“The Glass Menagerie” is a familiar play to most theatergoers.

Ms. Gatto uses the telephone to sell magazine subscriptions in order to earn the extra money she believes will help attract suitors for her disabled daughter.

Ms. Gatto uses the telephone to sell magazine subscriptions in order to earn the extra money she believes will help attract suitors for her disabled daughter.

“It’s well known and hasn’t been done around here in more than a quarter of a century,” Mr. Wharff said. “It’s a classic and the classics should be preserved in community theater.”

As a drama teacher at Caesar Rodney High School, Mr. Muller has taught “The Glass Menagerie” before and has become very familiar with it.

“It’s an interesting play and a great example of a writer taking every aspect of writing into consideration,” he said.

“Each word was chosen very deliberately and he isn’t just using the words to simply tell a story. That’s a real selling point for me.”

“The Glass Menagerie” opens tonight at 8. Shows continue Saturday and then Oct. 2, 3, 9 and 10, all at 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinée on Oct. 4.

The Patchwork Playhouse at 140 Roosevelt Ave. in Dover.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors, active military members and students. They can be obtained by visiting www.kctg.org, calling 674-3568 or at the door.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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