11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2010
Though most will pip for "Streetcar" as Williams' finest hour, I'd go for "The Glass Menagerie", a dark tale with great narration and stage direction that reads like lyrical prose. In the gothic genre, you will find better examples of the key themes ("Streetcar" is an obvious example), but there is something truly haunting about this play, something that will have you sympathizing with Tom and his odd family. A great read, even if you're not studying the genre.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Tennessee Williams won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for his 1945 play, "The Glass Menagerie". The work was the first success for its 34-year old author and the product of many years of hard work and frequent failure. The play quickly became an iconic part of American literature. John Lahr's biography, "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh" (2014) inspired me to revisit Williams and "The Glass Menagerie".
The play is memory as Tom, the narrator and a character, states at the outset; and its predominant mood, according to Williams, is nostalgia. It is thus appropriate to recall my early experience with the play. In the early 1960s, we studied American literature in the junior year of high school. Our teacher assigned each member of the class to read and do an oral report on an American play. My play was "The Glass Menagerie". The teacher made plain her dislike for Williams based on what she saw as the sexual, violent character of most of his work. I had already seen Williams "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Summer and Smoke" performed on stage. I am afraid I disagreed with her broad opinion about Williams too vehemently for the time and place. I read "The Glass Menagerie" and gave what I recall as a bloated oral report which would have been defensive in tone given what I knew about my teacher's view of Williams. It probably wasn't so much a matter of not understanding the play. "The Glass Menagerie" was already standard high school reading and its themes and beautiful language are within the grasp of most high school students, including me at the time. I may have missed the play for itself in trying to impress the class -- a universal high school failing in such things -- and in rebelling against what I knew of my teacher's thinking.
The play is about memory and I remember my first reading, subsequent readings over the years, other readings of Williams, and life experiences which have informed my recent readings. Associations come from odd places. To take not the most important example, I studied Plato in college and, as with Williams, have gone back to him repeatedly over the years. I have recently reread a study of Plato I read in college. Plato taught the importance of "recollection" or "remembering" what one already knows as critical to knowledge and understanding. Williams stresses "memory" but in a different way from Plato. Plato's recollection is of the mind and Williams states explicitly that his memory speaks to his heart and to the hearts of those who see and read his work. Both types of memory are important, but it is probably more difficult to remember the heart.
Williams throughout and in "The Glass Menagerie" is a heavily autobiographical playwright. The play recollects Williams' life as a young man in St. Louis before he moved to New Orleans, explored his sexuality, and continued the process that eventually would lead to "The Glass Menagerie" and to his long career as a writer. The frustrated young poet Tom Wingfield, the narrator who both stands apart from the play and participates in it, is Williams' depiction of himself while Amanda, the former Southern belle who has been abandoned by her husband, depicts Williams' mother and the shy, withdrawn, and tragic Laura is based upon Williams' sister Rose who underwent a lobotomy in the 1930s which forever haunted her brother Tennessee. In its entirety, the play is set in a shabby apartment where Tom, 22, works in a shoe factory to support the lonely, unhappy family and Amanda tries with increasing intensity to find a job or a suitor for the 24 year old Laura, who has no apparent interests other than playing with small glass animals and listening to old records on the victrola. Tom needs to get away to pursue his life as a writer. When he chafes at his role, Amanda denounces his selfishness and enlists his help in finding a prospective suitor for Laura, a "gentleman caller". The caller happens to be an old high school acquaintance of both Tom and Laura, who had a secret crush on him. During an eventful dinner, Laura becomes enamored of her "gentleman caller" again; but the straightforward, conventional young man proves to be already engaged. Amid recriminations from his mother, Tom leaves the home at last, leaving Amanda to comfort her unhappy daughter. "Blow out your candles, Laura -- and so good-bye" the torn but resolute narrator concludes as he leaves to learn about the world.
The play is both lyrical and tightly controlled and constructed. It is about people unhappy, lonely, and lost, each in their different way including the "gentleman caller". The three Wingfield's each contend with their dreams and their difficulties in facing reality. Tom escapes at great cost to himself and to the family. In reading the play when young, I, together with most readers, would tend to think forward and out -- about young Tom trying to break free. In reading the play when much older, I thought of being out and of what has happened with the freedom that has been won in youth. "The Glass Menagerie" remains personal and poignant.
John Lahr's biography taught me a great deal about Williams and about this play. The Broadway debut starred an aging actress, Laurette Taylor, who gave a legendary performance as Amanda. Lahr describes the casting, the rehearsals, the critical notices and more. But Lahr gets to the heart of Williams' play when he succinctly describes its "dramatic goal": "to redeem life, through beauty, from the humiliation of grief."
The play was fresh to me as I read it. It also was a memory play in reminding me of my first experience with the play and of the intervening years leading to my most recent reading.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2003
There are few American playwrights who rank as highly in the Pantheon as Tennessee Williams. He is up there with O'Neill, Miller and Albee as amongst the quintessential dramatists of the 20th century. This is one of his earliest, and in some respects his most timeless, of his scripts. No one can argue that it his most autobiographical, as it portrays a cloyingly suffocating matriarch, Amanda, and a younger sister, Laura, who are both interchangable characters for Williams' own little St Louis family. Actually, in real life, the outcome was much more tragic, as Williams' mother had a frontal lobotomy performed on his actual sister. One can see how Williams may have harbored some deep resentments towards his mother, and he spends most of his time getting even with her in this Euripidean play.
Though recent adaptations of this play have emphasized the "touchy-feely" aspects of the relationship between brother and sister (Why does Treat Williams come to mind?), the actual script lends itself to a much darker, Medea-like interpretation, which I believe Williams originally intended. This is Williams way of getting back at the evil Witch of the West who dominated his youth and who would exert her influence upon him for the rest of his life. It doesn't take a Freud to untangle this thread
If you want to watch a great performnace of this play, try to track down the "Broadway Theater Archive" 1973 version with Katherine Hepburn as Amanda, Sam Waterston as Tom, Michael Moriarity as "The Gentleman Caller," and Joanna Miles as an unforgettably vulnerable and poignant Laura. The Paul Newman 1987 theatrical release had a strong cast as well, but can't compete.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I loved Streetcar and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by the same writer. They both seemed meatier than this, which felt abrupt.
Amanda frets for her adult children who both live with her, the forever-out Tom and shy, 'crippled' Laura. She persuades Tom to bring home a clean-living friend from his warehouse job to meet Laura. This turns out to be someone Laura remembers very well.
I found William's later work much more fleshed-out than this, on sometimes similar veins. I didn't really see much point in the 'glass' metaphor, but can imagine the role of Amanda would be a good meaty one for an actress to play. Though not in the same league as Blanche or Maggie.