The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, is set in St Louis in 1937. The action is drawn from the memories of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. Tom is a warehouse worker, aspiring to one day be a poet. Amanda, Tom’s mother, was born a Southern Belle - she regales tales of her youth and the droves of gentleman callers that pursued her. Laura, Tom’s sister, is a painfully shy young woman who wears a brace on her leg from a birth defect. The play revolves around Amanda’s quest to find gentleman callers for Laura.
Tom, after Amanda begs of him to find suitors at the warehouse, asks that his old high school friend Jim come to dinner one night. As it turns out, Jim was Laura’s crush in high school and, because of her shyness, she feigns illness throughout the entire dinner. As dinner is ending, the lights are cut off due to an unpaid electric bill, and the characters must converse by candlelight. Amanda asks that Jim keep Laura company while she and Tom clean up from dinner.
Jim and Laura talk of high school, of Laura’s awkward shyness and uniqueness, of Laura’s glass menagerie. Overcoming her shyness, they dance an awkward waltz, and Jim kisses Laura. Jim draws back and explains that he actually is going steady with another girl and that he just got caught up in the moment. Jim hastily leaves, and the family falls into an argument. Amanda blames Tom for not telling them of Jim’s engagement, of which he had no idea, and Laura’s feelings are crushed.
Tom leaves and watches the two women from the fire escape, he explains that not long after Jim’s visit he was fired from the warehouse for writing poetry on a shoe box, and he quickly leaves Amanda and Laura behind to pursue his own adventures. Years later, in his adventures, Tom finds that he is incapable of leaving behind guilty memories of Laura.
Basically everyone is stuck in their own imaginary worlds:
Amanda – Faded Southern belle – Idyllic youth.
Laura – Her glass menagerie – beautiful and fragile.
Tom – Living adventure through the movies. Not being tied down. Dreamer.
Jim – Getting into television. Making a name for himself. Living up to his high school glory.
One important aspect of Williams’ stage directions is the onstage screen – a screen that displays images or phrases that are important to certain scenes in the play. I’ve read that most directors do without it but Tennessee Williams put it in his Production Notes because he felt that it would “give accent to certain values in each scene.”
I personally liked the screen idea while I was reading the play. In my minds eye I warped The Glass Menagerie - it wasn’t so much in the 30’s as it was maybe the 60’s or 70’s. I imagined a projector on stage playing flickering old home movies with cross-processed colors (think The Wonder Years intro). Flashing images of Amanda’s gleeful youth, stop action film of a tinted blue rose slowly budding and opening, etc. Personally I think it added a very interesting emphasis to important parts of the play.
All in all, it was a very quick read and a very interesting play. I’d love to see it played out live.
On to reading!