The Glass Menagerie: my review

May 16, 2009

Last night Dave and I had a date night: we saw The Glass Menagerie performed by The Lambs’ Players Theatre in Coronado.

I had never read this play by Tennesee Williams before, so I had no idea what we were in for before going.

Quick thoughts on it: It’s a story of a Southern belle mother whose husband abandoned the family, and she is left with a very shy, mentally/emotionally unstable daughter and an aimless, restless son. It was a tender story, sad at times, funny at others, poignant in its rich characters and the nuances of each personality. On the one hand, the mother was controlling and nagging, and couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that her slightly disabled daughter was unlike herself. She pushed and nagged this poor, fragile girl to be other than what she was: very shy and probably mentally ill. The mother (Amanda) also took issue with her son, criticizing him to the point of complete exasperation, giving him no space to develop and cultivate his passion for writing and adventure, and constantly shaming him with accusations of selfishness and laziness.

What made this play so rich and interesting, though, was that you could see beyond Amanda’s “controlling mother” persona and into her heart – a woman who couldn’t grasp how her life had turned out so differently that she expected. The many “gentleman callers” that courted her as a young Southern belle and offered promises of riches and land and stability somehow faded away and she picked a man who charmed her but then abandoned her and her children. She is left, bewildered and overwhelmed, with few options as a single mother living in the 1940s, with a son who she fears is following in his fathers’ irresponsible footsteps and a daughter who will be left an old maid, uncared for and dependent on the mercy of others for her sustenance.

This theatre company had a forum after the show, where they invited  interested patrons to an informal dialogue with the cast.   During this time, a man commented how he thought the table filled with the glass menagerie of animals (that the sister loves to care for) should have been more brightly illuminated, noting that that was the title of the whole production. One of the actresses responded that she understood the characters of the play to be, in fact, the glass menagerie. Fragile and brittle. Able to reflect and refract light. Unsure of their ultimate purpose and aim in this world.

I thought that was a brilliant response.

The play ended sadly, in Dave’s and my opinion. I’m not sure what literary critics do with the ending of this play, but it felt to us like a tragedy. The boy just takes off, and never returns. In a sense, it’s good that he broke free from the tyranny of his mother and the hopelessness of his sisters’ situation. But ultimately, he must squelch each remembrance of his sister’s light, and this was powerfully symbolized by her snuffing out five candles of a candelabra, one by one, until the stage is left in complete darkness.

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