Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Play Review: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Release year: 1945
Author links: Goodreads
Publisher: the pictured edition is published by New Directions in 1999
Pages: 104
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

The Glass Menagerie[1] is a four-character memory play by Tennessee Williams. Williams worked on various drafts of the play prior to writing a version of it as a screenplay for MGM, to whom Williams was contracted. Initial ideas stemmed from one of his short stories, and the screenplay originally went under the name of 'The Gentleman Caller' (Williams envisioned Ethel Barrymore and Judy Garland for the roles that eventually became Amanda and Laura Wingfield although Louis B. Mayer insisted on casting Greer Garson as Laura).

The play premiered in Chicago in 1944. It was championed by Chicago critics Ashton Stevens and Claudia Cassidy whose enthusiasm helped build audiences so the producers could move the play to Broadway where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1945. Laurette Taylor originated the role of the all-too-loving mother, Amanda Wingfield. In the 2004 documentary Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There, Broadway veterans nearly unanimously rank Taylor's performance as the most memorable of their entire lives. The Glass Menagerie was Williams's first successful play; he went on to become one of America's most highly regarded playwrights.

The play was reworked from one of Williams's short stories "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" (1943; published 1948).[2] The story is also written from the point of view of narrator Tom Wingfield, and many of his soliloquies from The Glass Menagerie seem lifted straight from this original. Certain elements have clearly been omitted from the play, including the reasoning for Laura's fascination with Jim's freckles (linked to a book that she loved and often reread, Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter). Generally the story contains the same plot as the play, with certain sections given more emphasis, and character details edited (for example, in the story, Jim nicknames Tom "Slim", instead of "Shakespeare"[2]).

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of my favorite plays (and movies) of all time and I have been meaning to read more Tennessee Williams for years! I was able to find The Glass Menagerie from the very small collection of plays my local library has in English and instantly read it through on one sitting. I immensely enjoyed the play itself, in addition to which I found myself enjoying the process of reading plays again. I was a theatre/film major for my undergrad and I feel like the amount of plays I read during those years kind of distanced me from plays for a while (also, we had to read all these really boring post war British plays that just didn't work for me at all), but I am not back in the game and DEFINITELY up for some play recommendations if you have any.

The three main characters of The Glass Menagerie are Amanda and her two children Tom and Laura. Tom is in his early twenties and supporting his family by working in a shoe warehouse. He is not a very dedicated worker and spends most of his free time dreaming about adventures similar to those he sees in movies. While Tom desperately tries to live in a future, in a world that is not yet his, Amanda lives in the past. She reminisces her youth, her glory days in the South and the number of suitors she used to have prior to marrying her husband and the father of her children, a man who eventually left his family for another kind of life. Laura is shy and I guess one could call her "fragile" (not a huge fan of calling people "fragile" like they are objects or something). She has no confidence whatsoever, as a result of which she never really is the kind of suitor-magnet her mother apparently was (also, times have changed since Amanda was young and the whole dating game has changed as a result of that!) Laura is often slated as "different than other girls". But what other girls? Different than what Amanda was like as a girl? This question of Laura's identity and where she fits with other young women is one of the most interesting aspects of the play.

The Glass Menagerie is a memory play (term coined by Williams, the play can be presented with "unusual freedom of convention") and Tom is both a character in it as well as its narrator. In addition to Tom, Amanda and Laura, the play briefly presents Jim, a "gentleman caller". In fact, much of the play is focused on Amanda's attempts to find a suitor for Laura. While Laura does not seem very interested in the idea of finding a gentleman called and much rather spends time at home polishing her collection of little glass figurines, Amanda is determined that a young woman ought to have a suitor. (While I was reading this I had these nightmarish visions of my mother trying to find a "gentleman caller" for me, because OH THE SHOCK OF BEING 25 AND SINGLE). Things with Jim do no necessarily go as planned, and the question of whether Laura will be an old maid intensifies even more.

I feel like all of the characters featured in this play are extremely interesting and engaging to read about. The way they interact with each other and with the world around them is executed so well, and I am now dying to see this on stage or on screen. I know there are multiple film adaptations of this out there and now I would like to know which one you would recommend for me? 

I still love A Streetcar Named Desire more, but after reading The Glass Menagerie I definitely want to read more by Williams as soon as possible. 


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