In 1944, a melancholy, self-described “memory play” about a disaffected young man, his controlling mother Amanda, and his fragile sister Laura debuted on Broadway and catapulted its 33-year-old playwright, Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams, to both popular and literary acclaim. Amanda and Laura are the beating heart and damaged soul of The Glass Menagerie. These two women and their complex relationship have kept the play relevant for more than 73 years.
So it feels right that Flat Rock Playhouse’s 2018 production of The Glass Menagerie is guided by two women who are also close — though considerably less conflicted: Lisa Bryant, who directs, and leading lady Paige Posey, who plays Amanda. The story of their relationship is a different kind of memory play — one that stretches far beyond the stage lights and through 24 years of mentorship at Flat Rock Playhouse. (Rounding out the cast will be Scott Treadway, another Playhouse veteran, as son Tom, and New York-based actors Sara Barnett and Karack Osborn playing Laura and “gentleman caller” Jim, respectively.)
Posey started her career at Flat Rock as an apprentice in 1982, spending summer seasons in the production department. She met her husband there in 1987; together, they came up each summer from their home in Orlando. Six years later, in 1993, he was cast in Flat Rock’s last production of The Glass Menagerie. Posey, back in Florida with their newborn son, didn’t catch the performance, but when a full-time job opened up at Flat Rock in the fall, she and her family relocated. She accepted a position as company manager and moved into an office alongside Scott Treadway, another Playhouse veteran.
Posey would recruit the 18-year-old Lisa Bryant as an apprentice performer at Flat Rock the next summer. “She was, and still is, a fantastic triple-threat performer,” Posey says.
Having once been an apprentice herself, she related to Bryant. Together they shared a real affection for the theater’s long, storied history — in early years, productions were held in a circus tent — and unique environment. The two women’s careers flourished. Bryant honed her skills, got her Equity card, and took the stage as a professional actor. Posey found her management role evolving, which allowed her to take on directing duties for the Playhouse’s Mainstage productions. She cast Bryant in leading roles in a variety of major musicals, including Grease, 42nd Street, State Fair, South Pacific, and Bye, Bye Birdie.
Bryant credits Posey as a role model and mentor, noting, “She was 100% instrumental in helping me grow as a professional. Paige would push me out of the nest to explore other experiences in the world, but was always the first to welcome me back when an opportunity presented itself.”
Posey left her position at Flat Rock in 2008 to join her husband working at a local radio station (WTZQ). But in 2014, she got a call from Bryant, by then the theater’s artistic director, about a Flat Rock Mainstage production also starring Treadway. She asked if Posey would consider joining the production, but this time as an actor.
Bryant was nervous; it would be a role reversal. Posey, however, enthusiastically accepted.
“She didn’t let it be weird,” says Bryant. “Paige continued to do what she had always done — encourage me, believe in me, and allow me to step into my new responsibilities with total grace and the support of a life-long mentor. That empowerment meant everything.”
At Bryant’s urging, Posey joined the Flat Rock Board of Trustees, where she’s currently finishing out her second year as president. And this year, when Bryant took on directing The Glass Menagerie, she immediately thought of Posey.
“There are few roles for women in theater like Amanda. That’s why actresses want to play her,” says Bryant. “Paige, however, is the rare actress that actually should play Amanda. It’s a role that will let her revel in the full range of what she can do on stage.”
Posey is looking forward to the challenge of playing the fading, delusional Southern belle, who, in refusing to admit the realities of her family’s poor finances and isolation, undermines her grown children’s already shaky chances at fulfillment. “Amanda is a complicated chick,” says Posey. “There is such depth of character and emotion to be discovered. The hard work will come in not only finding it, but delivering it honestly in every performance.”
This production of The Glass Menagerie caps another theater milestone: the 25th anniversary of Project Playhouse, a program that provides low-cost tickets to Henderson County school students. “It’s important to me to present this 70-plus-year-old play in a manner that compels these young people to connect, and not just feel like they’re watching something old and dusty,” says Bryant. “I don’t just want theater experts and lovers to enjoy the show. I want people who are seeing their first play ever to walk away understanding, on a visceral level, why this show is so meaningful and why it rates as a classic of the American theater.”
The play’s portrait of what it is to be trapped in a dead-end job, in an unhappy family, in a life you do not want, transcends time and place. And, Bryant notes, each new production brings something new to the table. “Williams’ characters are so multi-faceted, you could identify with any of them, depending on where you are in your own life,” she says. “Once upon a time, I responded fully to Laura’s shyness and awkwardness. As I’ve gotten older I recognize the Tom, even the Amanda within me. That’s the triumph of this show.”
Flat Rock Playhouse Mainstage (2661 Greenville Hwy.) presents The Glass Menagerie Thursday, Sept. 27 through Saturday, Oct. 13. Wednesday and Thursday shows happen at 2 and 7:30pm; Friday shows at 8pm; Saturday shows at 2 and 8pm; and Sunday shows at 2pm. For ticket information, call 828-693-0731 or see flatrockplayhouse.org.