I had the incredible pleasure, this weekend, of seeing The Glass Menagerie at the American Repertory Theater with my new co-workers from The Theater Offensive, and thanks to our youth troupe, True Colors, we got to take part in a Talkback with the cast after the show! The cast – Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Brian J. Smith – gave the best performance of Tennessee Williams I have ever seen. Smith hamming it up and reigning it in so perfectly as the Gentleman Caller Jim O’Connor, Keenan-Bolger’s completely realistic and heartbreaking turn as Laura, Quinto channeling Williams himself as Tom, and Cherry Jone (a founding member of A.R.T.) making the legendary character of Amanda Wingfield all her own blew me away.
The Glass Menagerie is my favorite Williams play. I know that’s saying a lot, I know it’s kind of unbelievable to even be able to choose a ‘favorite’. Like, who’s ever been able to say one is better than the others? But it’s true. It’s my favorite. The quiet madness of it, the way the characters question their identities and don’t necessarily find any answers, and the way Williams bared his soul writing Tom all comes together to make it an intensely personal, timeless look at family and adulthood in America. It really doesn’t matter to me that it’s based in 1930’s St. Louis, these issues of mental illness, public life, relationships, and obligation feel current. The kiss still makes me cry, drunk Tom still makes me howl with sad laughter, and every single word out of Amanda’s mouth still gives me chills.
This production was exactly what Williams should be. It was intense, it was hilarious, it was sad and unforgettable. There were moments of complete silence, when the stunned audience couldn’t even react. There were bursts of laughter and sighs of understanding from us, even at the back of the room.
When the play ended and the lights came up, we stood for an ovation through both cast bows and even then didn’t want to sit back down. As the crowd tickled out, those of us with TTO and other LGBT groups settled in at the front for the talkback. During the question and answer period we learned that one man had read the play in 1945 and spent his life hoping to see the play live – it took him 68 years and today he cried as he thanked the cast for making his dream come true. We also learned that the gentleman sitting two seats over from me had spent his years at Tulane as the person secretary to Tennessee Williams – this brought whoops and hollers from the small group gathered, including the cast. I even got to ask a question! I was rewarded with sincere, thoughtful, academic answers from all four cast members.
I asked the cast what they felt the difference was between reading plays personally and producing them to share as an actor. I’ve been involved in theater all of my life, but I’m a book-nerd at heart, and so I’ve always read plays as well as loved the productions. My favorite in college was easily Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author – I wrote essays, poems, and short stories based in it’s world, exploring characters without a home. In high school, Willams, Shakespeare, and Robert Newman’s The Button, a dramatic monologue I staged more than once, were the backbone of my theater obsession. And so I was curious what professional actors of their caliber might think.
Quinto took the lead, telling the story of how he found a copy of Menagerie on the street in NYC and read it for the first time in years just as he was considering taking the role as Tom for the A.R.T. production. He described how on his third reading, he connected with particular moments in Tom’s journey and that these readings were what made him want to play Tom in the end. Celia Keenan-Bolger explained how she has found that in reading Williams, there’s so much that he decided not to write, that seeing it – and starring in it – on the stage has told her the full story, and it’s been an enlightening process for her. Cherry Jones discussed the difference between the three written versions of Menagerie – the reading, the acting, and the London acting – and how the original Broadway Amanda – Laurette Taylor – seemed to have an incredible influence on the difference between the reading and acting scripts. She mused that she’d love to know which changes Williams intended to make and which were influenced by Taylor’s iconic turn as Amanda. Jones then gave me a bit of an assignment of my own – to compare the reading and acting versions to see which edits Williams made from writing the original script and seeing it come to life on the stage.https://theluckiest.net/wp-admin/post-new.php
By the end, I couldn’t thank them enough to taking the time to not only answer my question but for meeting with us at all. I hope that the youths in the True Colors program really took away some great advice and great experience as well.
While Amanda Wingfield desperately struggles to provide her fragile daughter with at least one “gentleman caller,” her son, Tom, dreams of escaping from his job at a warehouse and his oppressive life at home. An exquisite family drama filtered through Tom’s memory, The Glass Menagerie is staged by John Tiffany, the acclaimed director of the international sensation, Black Watch, and the Broadway musical, Once.
For further information, visit americanrepertorytheater.org. The Loeb Drama Center is located at 64 Brattle Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge.