This isn’t really a review, as I didn’t make it to Coup D’Etat’s wonderful production of Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie until closing weekend. But because it was such a splendid production, I wanted to share some thoughts about it, generated greatly by the director’s note left at the door of the theater.
Directed by Lanny Langston, this production starring James Napoleon Stone, Kaylyn Forkey, Cynthia Uhrich, and Kevin Fanshaw highlights the claustrophobic nature of the play and the tense, fragile foundation of the Wingfield’s hopes and expectations. Glass baubles hang from the ceiling, ethereal music weaves in and out of the soundscape, and Savage Umbrella’s SPACE, located in an old warehouse, lends perfectly to this show whose characters struggle with modern ideas of success while harboring romantic notions of a different lifestyle. Amanda dreams of the past when she enjoyed gentlemen callers before she married, Laura is repeatedly called old-fashioned for her shy demeanor and simple outlook on life, and Tom escapes to the movies, to watch stories of adventure so unlike the monotonous life he leads.
Langston’s directorial note asks the audience to consider their own memories and how they remember them. This came easily for me with this show because many of Laura’s experiences resonated with my own (realizing you’ve heard lines of dialogue the echo things people have actually said in your life is a very bizarre feeling) and I was wound up in seeing my personal connection with Laura. The greatest sadness of the show involves Laura and Jim, her gentleman caller. Some might say that the greatest tragedy is that Laura’s love for Jim remains unfulfilled, as he is already engaged to another, despite the interest he seems to show in her. But it isn’t just that Laura doesn’t end up with Jim (especially as that could be interpreted less as the sadness of unrequited love and more of the fear Amanda exhibits that Laura will become an old maid. As a person who has been single most of her life in a society that isn’t very kind to single people, I refuse to submit to that nonsense. Rock on, single ladies). Rather, it’s the false hope that Laura receives and the work that Jim does to ease her out of her shyness, which she immediately recedes back into once she realizes Jim’s interest in her is not what it appears. Finally in her life, someone has seen her as more than shy and embraces her difference, and then in the span of a few minutes, she finds that it’s not enough and it all falls apart.
At the top of the play, Amanda wonders what they are all going to do with the rest of their lives. She is disappointed that her children are not where she expects them to be. Laura is 24, not married and not on a strong career path. Instead of trying to figure out why or what other options might exist for Laura, Amanda berates her (rather harshly in this production) and pushes her into situations that make her shyness (which looks – and feels, as audience member – an awful lot like anxiety) stronger and prevent her from succeeding. As a millennial, the pressure and idea that you should be at a certain point in your life is something I greatly empathize with. As a young person concerned that I’m not where I should be – and realizing that being an adult is not some kind of formulaic success pattern and that worrying about such things is not worth it – the concern about what one is doing with their life and Amanda’s fretting over it is both familiar and frustrating.
This show is described at the beginning as a memory play, and it’s Laura’s brother Tom who narrates this memory for us, describing it as “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.” What truth then is Tom telling us? Is it that events in our life become more powerful when we look back upon them? That it is difficult to tell the importance of time when we are young? That children are fated to be like their fathers, as Tom is, and that happy endings will never exist for people who are different, like Laura? That memories are like glass and, like Laura’s menagerie, must be tended to be recalled and reflected upon their importance? Or how our memories of the past better reflect who we are than what happened? That our memories are as sensitive as glass and can just as easily be broken or distorted? That Laura – like her glass unicorn – must be broken in order to fit in to what society expects of her so that she does not always appear different? All of these? None of these?
This is my first time seeing a performance of The Glass Menagerie and I’m grateful that it was this production that I saw. It’s one of those shows that is often done and, when done well, is striking and thought-provoking. I’ll certainly be mulling over this one in the weeks to come.