Sharon Winegar can’t be quiet about her new role as Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie,” which Foothill Theatre Company opens Friday in Nevada City.
The actress utters exclamations of joy about her choice role, one coveted since her high school days in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“It’s like everyone who’s a sophomore or junior reads it in high school,” Winegar said. “I thought, ‘When I’m older, that’s the part I’ll get to play.’ When I got the call in the spring from (FTC director) Lynne Collins, I said, ‘YESSS, AM I INTERESTED!'”
OK, so it’s three decades later when Winegar gets to portray the character, an overbearing mother in total denial of her children’s problems. But waiting all this time has actually helped Winegar see Amanda in a better light.
“It’s funny, when I was younger, before I had the life experiences, I used to think Amanda was a joke,” the actress explains. “Now I relate to her. Now that I’m almost 50, she makes total sense to me.
When I was younger, oh, she was so weird, so bossy. I so get her now.”
This doesn’t mean that Winegar embraces Amanda as a friend; she considers Amanda scarier than any of her friends.
“Amanda’s not comfortable. She’s a challenging person to find your way through,” Winegar stated. “She’s very complicated; she goes through a lot of twists and violent mood swings. I love playing her. She’s a little out there.”
“The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams’ first popular success, premiered in 1944 in Chicago and won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award as the best play of the season in 1945.
The play is about the Wingfield family in St. Louis. There’s Amanda, who’s the mom of shy and crippled Laura and Tom, a shoe factory worker who still lives at home.
Amanda is obsessed with finding a nice husband for Laura; Tom is reluctant to find a suitor for his sister, although he agrees to do so for his mother’s sake. But Laura is opposed to that idea – she would rather spend her time hearing her favorite records and playing with her glass menagerie.
In between her concerns for her children, Amanda often reminisces about growing up on a Mississippi plantation farm.
Amanda means well, as her children struggle to find their place in the world. Tom wants to be a writer, but he’s stuck in St. Louis. Laura is terrified of the world and afraid to leave the nest. Although she tries to ignore the problems of her children, Amanda unwittingly reminds Laura and Tom that the real purpose in life is to rise intellectually, socially, spiritually, and to shine. In doing so, the mother espouses that dreams are necessary.
“Amanda’s one of those great silly women with a great depth of character,” Winegar said. “She’s kind of misguided; see what she does to her family with her very overbearing manner. With all the greatest heart and desire for them to succeed, Amanda does it all wrong.”
“The Glass Menagerie,” set in the 1930s, is still relevant, Winegar points out.
“What’s happening is something kids at Nevada Union today would experience between their parents,” Winegar said almost in a lecture tone. She taught English and drama most recently at Nevada Union High School, and graduate and undergraduate acting and voice/speech classes at the University of California at Davis.
“‘The Glass Menagerie’ is funny; it’s not some dysfunctional, heavy family tragedy,” Winegar said. “Its humor is stuff we all realize from our own lives; it’s so typical.”
She’s often assigned “The Glass Menagerie” as optional supplemental reading in her 15 years of teaching.
“It’s probably the most universal of Williams’ plays. He mostly writes about the South and issues that affect Gothic life and Southern belles and magnolia blossoms,” Winegar said. “This play is more contemporary in feel, highly autobiographical. As far as family dynamics, it’s very recognizable. That’s why they teach it in high school.”
Winegar has appeared in more than 20 FTC productions, including “Sylvia,” “Hedda Gabler,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Noises Off” and “Blue Window.” She has also performed with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the Sacramento Theatre Company, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre and the Maxim Gorky Theatre in Vladivostok, Russia. She has directed numerous productions for FTC, including “Our Country’s Good,” “The Woolgatherer,” “Quilters” and “Betrayal.”
Winegar holds an MFA in acting from Davis and an English degree from Berkeley.
“I love Williams. He’s so emotional. His works are all about people and passion, all about passion,” Winegar said. “Nothing is more exciting than seeing people with a passion for their life, their family, that in the name of passion often do very foolish things. Amanda is one of his great ladies of theater, one of the great roles.”
“The Glass Menagerie” also stars Karyn Casl as Laura, Sam Meisner as Tom and the narrator, and Joel Bischoff as the gentleman caller.
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Foothill Theatre Company presents “The Glass Menagerie”
WHEN: Previews tonight at 7 and runs Friday through Oct. 27. Show times at 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., Nevada City
ADMISSION: $17 on Thursdays and Sundays; $21 on Fridays and Saturdays; and $10 for tonight’s preview performance. Also $5 seats available for all performances, and discounts for seniors, children 6 to 12 years old, students and groups of 10 or more
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