The Glass Menagerie opens tonight at the Performance Network Theatre and Ann Arbor's only resident professional theatre company is ready to take on the classic play by Tennessee Williams. Carla Milarch returns to the stage after five-year hiatus to portray one of more iconic roles in theatre, Williams' Amanda Wingfield.
"This is role that has been tackled by many significant actresses of our time. JoAnne Woodward, Judith Ivey, and Katherine Hepburn are just a few," says Milarch. "It's a role that actresses take on when they reach a certain point in their career when they no longer play the ingénue anymore."
She feels that she has reached that point and is determined to go into it fully just like every other role she has ever taken on. "I'm there at that point in my career, but I'm diving in with both feet, so it's a joy and it's challenge," she explains. "It's a challenge because obviously you have a lot of prominent people's past performances that have set the bar incredibly high, but it's a great joy because it's such a wonderful role to conquer and bring to life."
Milarch is a long-time fan of Williams and declares him one of her favorite playwrights. "I just love the speaking language he writes," she says. "It strikes a cord with me and it is just work that I really connect with as an actress." She also is very inspired by Williams' life and enjoys being part of The Glass Menagerie since it is his most autobiographical play. "All of the autobiographical stuff within it really strikes a cord with me," she says, "so it really makes it a special piece to do when you are a Tennessee Williams lover like I am."
Taking on the role of Amanda is fitting for Milarch for her first appearance back to the stage. "In the five years I've been away from it, the biggest change in my life is I have had a child," she explains, "and if there is anything that Amanda is first, it's that she's a mother, a very dedicated and very overbearing mother, but a mother. And it feels appropriate that a super mother role like this would be my first step back into it."
Milarch, like most actors, approaches every role a little differently. For this one, first and foremost has been script. "Each line is a piece of poetry in itself so I started with the language," she says. "Aside from that it is just the normal process that I use an actor and haven't done anything out of the ordinary, just using my emotional memory and text analysis."
While Milarch has been away from the stage these past years, she has not been away from the theatre. She has been working on the creative side of Performance Network Theatre for over thirteen years in a range of positions. Most recently, she has been the associate artistic director of the company and helping to get its children's theatre and Second Stage Theatre up and running. "I really love PNT and being part of it for so many years," she says, "it also has let me realize that you can do what you love for your work and be a professional actor in Michigan."
Milarch is living her dream, playing a role she has always wanted, and hopes that theatregoers will come and enjoy Performance Network Theatre's production of The Glass Menagerie. "We are really harkening back to the original intent of Tennessee Williams," she says, "and if you have never seen the play or are a Williams lover like I am, you will enjoy this production."
The Glass Menagerie opens tonight, October 5th, and runs through October 28th at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor. For more information or tickets, visit www.performancenetwork.org or call 734.663.0681.