Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

What a wonderful week for reading plays! It’s been a long time since I read a play of my own accord and it was great to get back to doing that. I haven’t read "The Glass Menagerie" in quite a while and it was great to revisit it now when I am older and wiser and I know how to read plays as an actor and a director instead of just a reader.

If you don’t know what this play is about, it follows the Wingfield family and their life in St. Louis. The play is narrated by Tom, the son of Amanda and brother to Laura. Tom is constantly seeking escape from his overbearing mother who’s one goal in life is to find a gentleman caller and then a husband for Laura, who’s leg is crippled. At the end of the play, one gentleman caller shows up, but expectations are not met as they are supposed to be.

I loved the version of the play that I had because it contained a forward by Williams that explained how he wanted the set and the lighting and everything along with that. One of the important discoveries I made while reading the play was how central Laura truly is, even though she doesn’t speak much in the play. She is supposed to be lit in a light of “pristine clarity such as light used in early religious portraits of female saints or Madonna’s.” The play is constantly described as a memory play so the stage is said to be kept dim with shafts of light on focused areas or actors. This, I think, provides the audience and reader direction as to where to focus the attention.

When I first read this play I didn’t notice all of this, but now see how important it actually all is. The picture of the father who abandoned his family is said to be larger than life, which shows that his small act of leaving them has altered this family and has an ever present impact on their daily life. There is always a cloud of trouble and stress hanging over this family whether it’s about money, husbands, or finding a life of your own and all if that is expressed through the father’s picture.

This play is very delicately written; delicate is really the only word I can find for it, as if it were made of glass. Even the characters, especially Laura are delicate. Laura seems to be made of glass; beautifully crafted and taken great care of but if a person takes one misstep, the entire thing shatters. The most beautiful part of this play, in my opinion, is when Laura is dancing with Jim and her favorite glass unicorn breaks. When he asks her if it is broken she replies:

“Now it is like all the other horses… Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.”

Laura is changed by her one night with Jim forever; she will now be able to move through the world independently and conduct herself with confidence and not have to live in her own glass bottle anymore.

A menagerie is defined as a place where animals are kept to be trained for exhibition which is what the mother, Amanda, is doing through this entire play. Amanda has been so hurt by her husband’s leaving her lost youth that she is living almost vicariously through her children, who will have none of it. At one point while explaining to Tom why she must plan for everything so far in advanced, she says:

“You are the only young man that I know who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it!”

She is a character incapable of letting her own past failures go so that she struggles with accepting her children’s differences and failures. Although you can see her throughout the play as a sort of unsympathetic and pushy character because of how she treats her children, you have to realize how much she has been hurt by her past and how scared she is for the future.

Tom is a very interesting character to look at. He is so desperate for a life of his own that is jeopardizing his entire family to satisfy himself, like using his money for registering for the marine’s instead of paying the electricity bills. I can’t say that I don’t see where he is coming from. It hurts to have so much pressure like that thrust upon you and having no escape and when you do find that escape, you are reprimanded for it. My favorite quote from Tom is in scene four when he says:

“You know it don’t take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin, Laura. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?”

Tom is desperate for his own life so he knows that he will eventually have to make a false move in order to escape the life he despises so much, living in a home that is like a coffin and working in a warehouse that is like a prison.

This play is full of beautiful characters and is a wonderfully crafted and moving story. Anyone involved in theater should be required to read it but even more, anyone interested in reading about human actions and life should read this. This is a wonderful look at the show we are all putting on every day when we push our past and our pain back inside of our minds and live as we are “supposed” to live, as if being viewed as glass pieces.

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!

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