The Glass Menagerie
February 13, 2018 | By Caroline Lowder
In the Studio Theater on Feb. 20, a small cast and crew took to the stage to perform Tennessee Williams’ play “The Glass Menagerie” under the direction of Professor Scott Edmiston. As students and parents shuffled into the theater, sitting shoulder to shoulder, the lights dimmed and the play opened with a narration. Tom Wingfield, the storyteller of the play portrayed by fourth-year neuroscience major Chad Comiter, began by describing his family’s troublesome state. Left by their father to travel to world, the Wingfields, a family comprised of Tom, his older sister Laura and their mother, have been left to their own defenses in the grueling 1936 southern American society.
The story opens and stays set in a small, shabby St. Louis apartment, which is made to seem larger on stage through the various placements of assorted furniture, with the focus remaining on three shelves containing small pieces of glass in the far right corner of the stage for the entirety of the play.
It became clear from the first lines that this play was a retelling of the past. While Tom is the narrator, he is not the protagonist. His mother, Amanda, who is played by fourth-year theatre major Rosa Procaccino, fills that position. A classic southern woman and former debutant, Amanda is determined, despite her less than ideal family situation, to be received well by society and provide a prosperous life for her children. While Tom works to provide most of the familial funds through his job in a warehouse, Laura, his older and shy sister, remains home having not succeeded at business school. Laura is crippled and quirky, enjoying the simplest things like shining her glass menagerie and listening to old folk tunes. “She is in a world of her own,” said Tom during the play. This causes panic for Amanda, as she feels her daughter will never find success or happiness, prompting an obsession with finding a man to support her.
As home life grows more intense, with constant fighting between Tom and Amanda over her overbearing nature, the viewer begins to sense the narrator’s urge to fly the coop. Yet, he remains, and the true cause for this is unclear until the final lines of the narration. The storyline shifts when Tom to invites a friend from the warehouse over for dinner, per his mother’s request. The remainder of the play is consumed with awkward small talk over a meal, eventually leading to a life changing conversation between Laura and the man Tom has brought to dinner and one final fight between Tom and Amanda. Without giving away the ending, it is easy for one to assume that this play ends in heartbreak. Yet it is the underlying messages of the story provides about family, memory, and reality that remain with audience members long after the show is over.
Sitting down with costume designer Francis McSherry, it is highlighted that most of Tennessee Williams’ plays don’t have much of a plot. Set in a singular space with a mere four characters, many might view this as a disadvantage towards the play, yet costume and set designers thrive under these conditions as this makes their job that much more impactful. The symbolism hidden within the placement of a chair or the dress worn by an actress can make or break the play in these scenarios and, as such, it is important to keep an eye out when watching for small details that might give away clues about the characters or situations. McSherry highlights Amanda’s final dress, which the designer highlights as being a glimpse into her past as a young and desirable, woman through the bright colors of the dress but also the distressed state of the clothing. Similarly, McSherry made the conscious choice to give Tom no costume changes, which he said allows the character to fade into the background.
The play ends abruptly, with Tom having a somber and lengthy monologue concluding with the singular word, “Goodbye.” There was an exaggerated pause following the dimming of the lights as the audience longed for the play to continue, the sign of a truly great performance. Shuffling out of the small theater, the audience must ponder the storyline, wondering how it all really ended, only left to discuss the memory of a play about memories.