The Glass (half-full)Menagarie

imagesThe Booth Theatre has a fantastic new production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennesse Williams.  Zachary Quinto captivated as Tom.  I suspect he will live long and prosper in many future roles on stage and screen.  Cherry Jones portrayed a very funny and naturally dramatic Amanda. I totally bought her southern, exaggerated way of speaking.  And Celia Keenan-Bolger quietly shone as poor, awkward, Laura.

My more experienced theatre-going companion assured me this was the best production of “Glass” she had seen and pointed out it kept more in line with William’s original intent. The stage was set apart by a shallow pool of water from the audience, which may have contributed to the overall dreamy and ethereal quality to the production.  As Tom announces in the first scene, this is a memory play and must be treated as such.

With praise duly noted, and I do highly recommend catching a performance if you happen to be in NYC over the holidays, I do have some quibbles.

It’s a memory play and we witness Tom’s memory, so ultimately the play is about Tom.  We see him revisit the night he abandoned his overbearing mother and selfless sister to strike out on his own, following in his deadbeat dad’s footsteps.  So Tom has to leave at the end, but I’m not buying that his mom’s irrational anger at him for bringing an engaged man to dinner as a gentlemen caller for his sister would have caused him to leave. Not after all the years of abuse and pent up frustration he felt toward his mom and his lack of success in life so far.  Perhaps, this was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it didn’t feel right.  Instead, it seemed like Tom had to leave, and the plot served to move the characters, rather than organically growing from the characters.

Lets talk more about the second act.  In contrast to the first act, which takes place over many days, weeks even, the second act is the night of the Gentlemen Caller.  And most of the second act is the lengthy scene between Laura and the Gentlemen Caller, a character not seen in the entire first act.  Quite a juxtaposition, as Tom and Amanda, who dominated the first act, are nowhere to be seen for the majority of the second.  But that works well.  The first act is set-up, the second act is pay-off.  But a more reasonable interpretation of end result of the events of the second act is at odds with what William’s intended and with how most theatre-goers see the play.  Allow me to explain.

So we have Laura.  Poor, pathetic, shy, puking Laura, who cannot even go to typing class without getting  a panic attack and throwing up.  She’s not going to be able to find a job, and she can’t even talk to strangers, let alone be romanced by a future husband.  Her prospects look bleak. Yet, she’s very pretty, and very sweet, and she has a loving brother and mother who are able to find a suitable Gentleman Caller for her.

Of all the single men in the world, the one they bring is none other than THE ONLY MAN SHE HAS EVER LOVED. Who, it turns out, is not married with kids as previously feared, but instead working at a factory and still dreaming big for his life.

Their arranged date starts off terribly, horrifically, awkwardly.  Laura can barely bring herself to answer the door.  She refuses to join the family for dinner.  Its all quite embarrassing.  But after eating, when Tom and Amanda busy themselves with dishes, the Gentleman Caller starts a conversation with Laura on the living room floor.  And it goes well.  She is responsive and fairly clever.  And the two of them seem well matched.  The Caller clearly wants to be in charge of the relationship and Laura is happy to be supportive.  He fondly remembers his glory days in high school and she fondly remembers his glory days too.  He wants her to have her own voice and take chances and he thinks of ways to help her.  He wants her to dance, to have confidence and he seems genuinely interested in her glass figurines.  She tells him about her favorite: the unicorn, which is different and special and fragile. (pssst.  she’s talking about herself) And then, in the course of teaching her to dance for the first time, the unicorn figurine gets broken.  He breaks her, figuratively.  But she says its no big deal, because a man (him) is clearly interested in her and everything is going so well.  She doesn’t need those little glass animals.  And they kiss and everything seems great, until he confesses, he can’t call her again because he already has a girlfriend and they are promised to be married.  He breaks her again, figuratively.

And that’s that.  Amanda finds out and screams at Tom.  Tom screams back and goes to the movies, never to return.  And Laura mopes around on stage.  This was her one chance at love, and now she will never amount to anything.  Tom, having left his mother and sister, becomes his father, and his haunted by Laura.  And Amanda has been abandoned by her son, years after her husband left her.

At least, that’s how I felt after leaving the theatre, and I think that’s general consensus. But I started thinking  more and more–It’s a really good play, the characters and lines stick with you–why are we taking such a gloomy outlook on this day, just because of what Tom says happened in the final epilogue scene.

Think about it.  Poor Laura had a date go really well, except for the fact that he was engaged.  But that’s not her fault.  She was charming and clever and she grew in confidence.  Try, there will be other, single, gentlemen callers.  The man she most admired in the world was so captivated by her that he cheated on his fiance after spending less than an hour in conversation with Laura.  That’s impressive seduction.  Look, I’m not saying Laura is the second coming of Anna Karenina, but she doesn’t have to be the same girl who threw-up at typing class and couldn’t join the dinner table.  Sure, it sucks that the perfect guy was engaged, but that’s life. Laura could be on her way now.

And I’ve already talked about not-buying this one bad night as the impetus for Tom’s inevitable departure.  This seems like a more realistic conversation between Tom and Amanda at the end.

Amanda: How could you bring an engaged man to meet Laura?

Tom: I didn’t know he was engaged.

Amanda: But you are friends at work.  How could you not know?

Tom: He didn’t tell anyone at work.

Amanda: That’s a fair point.  That’s really bad luck for Laura, but at least she had a good time until he fessed up to having a fiance.  I’m sorry I got mad at you.

Tom: That’s okay  I’m sorry I didn’t know about my friend’s engagement. I’ll see if I can find another gentleman caller for poor Laura.  And I’ll buy a new glass Unicorn for Christmas.


Obviously, William’s has a more dramatic ending, but I think mine as got merit, too.

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