In the catalogue of the great classics of American Theatre, Tennessee Williams’ 1944 “memory play” The Glass Menagerie is widely known as his most autobiographical work, basing the narrator/character Tom, on his own life.
“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” Tom
Tom Wingfield (played by Jason Klarwein) narrates the beginning of the play, stating that it is based on his own memories of the Wingfield family, their dim reality, and the expectations that each member must uphold for the family to survive. Tom longs for the freedom of a creative, adventurous life as a poet but must work at the local shoe factory to provide for the family as the primary bread-winner due to his father leaving sixteen years ago. So instead, he escapes life by drinking and going to the movies to watch celebrities play out the adventures for him.
“Every time you come in yelling that God damn “Rise and Shine!” “Rise and Shine!” I say to myself, “How lucky dead people are!”
His mother Amanda (played by Helen Howard), is a nagging over-zealous crusader for the improvement of one’s position in society, with her primary concern being, finding a husband for her daughter Laura who is emotionally and socially crippled by her lame leg more than the physical impediment itself. She retreats into her own world, rarely venturing outside as she cares for her delicate glass menagerie, symbolising her own fragility.
When Tom brings home a ‘gentleman caller’ (played by Julian Curtis) for Laura, all hopes for the family are riding high.
Helen Howard, who stepped into the role of Amanda, the mother, after Caroline Kennison could not continue the production due to illness, plays the fine line of tragi-comedy with aplume. When Laura’s gentleman caller arrives, Amanda ludicrously prances about in the formal dress reliving past glories as the Southern Belle who had a string of gentleman callers, yet she picked their father.
Kathryn Marquet as Laura, has the most alluring, easy to listen to voice quality for the shy and conservative character. However, it wasn’t until the climactic scene where she spends some time with the gentleman caller alone that she truly blossoms. This touching scene allows Laura to open up, give her and the audience hope for a brighter future. The moment where the little glass unicorn (her favourite and most symbolic piece) becomes a horse is a subtle foreshadowing of what that future may bring.
Other symbolism runs throughout this piece, including the fire escape entrance that acts as the bridge between reality and illusion, and the ever-present absence of the father who deserted them sixteen years is signified by a billboard sized cardboard cut-out of the father which remains in the background of the set throughout the play.
Lighting designer Glenn Hughes, along with composer and sound designer Gordon Hamilton, aptly set the mood for this piece, complimenting Penny Challen’s set design. Particularly nice was the fragmented carpet on the outskirts – much like the fragments of the ‘memory play’ itself.
Director David Berthold is to be congratulated on insisting on a lighter rendition of this classic piece, saving the play from being tired and depressing. If you haven’t seen this Tennessee Williams classic, then it is part of your theatrical education to attend.
The Glass Menagerie will be playing at La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre till August 31st.