Monday, May 16, 2011

Breaking Glass - "You think I want to spend fifty-five years down there in that - celotex interior! with - fluorescent - tubes!"

We invited friends to go with us to see The Glass Menagerie, but they opted out.  I sort of understood.  Isn't this one of those mandatory plays that's depressing and hard?  I remember long ago seeing a movie or the play, but it didn't make a lasting impression.

But it's considered one of the great American plays by one of the greatest playwrights.  So we went.

Right off, as the tiny Out North theater space darkened, I was struck by the music - unfortunately not live - but still invoking a mood that fit the play perfectly.  (I later asked the director about the music since I thought it worked so well.  He said he hadn't liked the CD that came when they bought the rights to do the play, so he composed the opening piano part himself and pulled together other music for other parts.)

A mother, son, and daughter with a limp.  Dad, whose portrait hangs over the mantle, we learn as the play proceeds, was a charmer who one day just up and left.  The southern society Mom had grown up in - complete with ritualized gentleman callers - has now been replaced by factories and, in her case, poverty.  Only the son's meager income at the shoe factory keeps the family barely surviving the Depression of the 1930s in St. Louis.

Stage before the play began

The family members, collectively and  individually, are all outsiders.  For Mom, poverty keeps her an outsider from her DAR sisters, and she lives in a fantasy world of her lost Southern upbringing.  Laura, the daughter, with her bad leg (the script calls for a leg brace, but they played it with a shoe with a very high lift) was an outsider in school where she was painfully shy.  And Tom, the son, with his interest in writing, and his strange mother and sister, never fit in with the guys at school either.    All this sets up the basic conflict:  Mom wants to marry off Laura.  Tom works at the shoe factory to support the family but desperately wants adventure which he tastes nightly at the movies.  Laura is fine in the cocoon of home, tending her glass animals.  Beyond the walls, she gets sick. 

Mock up of the set

And the family tensions eloquently explode (Scene 3 excerpt from absolutenglish):

AMANDA: You're going to listen, and no more insolence from you ! I'm at the end of my patience !
[He comes back toward her.]
TOM: What do you think I'm at? Aren't I supposed to have any patience to reach the end of, Mother? I know, I know. It seems unimportant to you, what I'm doing - what I want to do - having a little difference between them !You don't think that -
AMANDA: I think you've been doing things that you're ashamed of. That's why you act like this. I don't believe that you go every night to the movies. Nobody goes to the movies night after night. Nobody in their right mind goes to the movies as often as you pretend to. People don't go to the movies at nearly midnight, and movies don't let out at two a.m. Come in stumbling. Muttering to yourself like a maniac! You get three hours' sleep and then go to work. Oh, I can picture the way you're doing down there. Moping, doping, because you're in no condition.
TOM [wildly]: No, I'm in no condition !
AMANDA: What right have you got to jeopardize your job - jeopardize the security of us all? How do you think we'd manage if you were -
TOM: Listen !You think I'm crazy about the warehouse? [He bounds fiercely toward her slight figure.] You think I'm in love with the Continental Shoemakers? You think I want to spend fifty-five years down there in that - celotex interior! with - fluorescent - tubes! Look! I'd rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out my brains - than go back mornings! I go ! Every time you come in yelling………
that God damn 'Rise and Shine!'- 'Rise and Shine!' I say to myself, 'How lucky dead people are ! 'But I get up. I go! For sixty-five dollars a month I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever! And you say self - selfs' all I ever think of. Why, listen, if self is what I thought of, Mother, I'd be where he is -G 0 N E ! [Pointing to fathers picture.] As far as the system of transportation reaches! [He starts past her. She grabs his arm.] Don't grab at me, Mother!
AMANDA: Where are you going?
TOM: I'm going to the movies!
AMANDA: I don't believe that lie!
TOM [crouching toward her, overtowering her tiny figure. She backs away, gasping]: I'm going to opium dens ! Yes, opium dens, dens of vice and criminals' hang-outs, Mother. I've joined the Hogan gang, I'm a hired assassin, I carry a tommy-gun in a violin case! I run a string of cat-houses in the Valley! They call me Killer, Killer Wingfield, I'm leading a double-life, a simple, honest warehouse worker by day, by night a dynamic tsar of the underworld, Mother. I go to gambling casinos, I spin away fortunes on the roulette table ! I wear a patch over one eye and a false moustache, sometimes I put on green whiskers. On those occasions they call me -El Diablo ! Oh, I could tell you things to make you sleepless ! My enemies plan to dynamite this place. They're going to blow us all sky-high some night ! I'll be glad, very happy, and so will you ! You'll go up, up on a broomstick, over Blue Mountain with seventeen gentlemen callers! You ugly - babbling old - witch. [He goes through a series of violent, clumsy movements, seizing his overcoat, lunging to do door, pulling it fiercely open. The women watch him, aghast. His arm catches in the sleeve of the coat as he struggles to pull it on. For a moment he is pinioned by the bulky garment. With an outraged groan he tears the coat of again, splitting the shoulder of it, and hurls it across the room. It strikes against the shelf of Laura's glass collection, there is a tinkle of shattering glass. LAURA cries out as if wounded.]
L A U R A [shrilly] : My glass ! - menagerie. . . . [She covers her face and turns away.]
The Glass Menagerie opened on Dec. 26, 1944 - Williams was 33 - in Chicago.  And if you do the math, you'll figure out that he would have been 100 years old this year. 

As I said at the beginning, I saw going to the play more as an assignment, but the acting was superb and the play proves itself as an enduring classic.  I suspect it will touch a lot of people in our own time of Depression and where many young adults find themselves living back home with their parents instead of having adventures out in the world.  And Mom's life in memory of a Southern charm eclipsed by a new soulless, industrial culture will seem familiar to many who have seen the rapid changes brought on by technology during their lifetimes.

There are only four characters.  Amanda, the mother, played by Scarlet Kittylee Boudreaux.  The son Tom, played by Max Aronson.  The daughter, Laura, played by Sarah Bethany Baird.  And the gentleman caller, Jim, played by Patrick Parker Killoran.

I was lost in their world with them for the duration.  Everything they did was right.  I really don't know how Laura pulled it off, but her change from painfully shy to fully engaged at the end worked perfectly.  

[OK, I need to explain this last picture.  I've learned with my tiny Canon Powershot, that stage lighting tends to wash out the faces unless I set the camera to a few steps darker than the meter automatically would do.  But since I don't shoot during the play (unless they say I can) I forgot about my camera, and only quickly pulled it out to get the actors bowing.  But it was too late to change the setting.  And then they were gone.  It was too bright and trying to get the faces better exposed in photoshop made for weird effects.  So I tried the glass filter (this is the Glass Menagerie, right?), and it wasn't that successful either, but I think the effect works better than the original. (If you double click it, you can see it much better than blogspot shows it.)  And if you know the actors, you would recognize them.]

This is, as I said, one of the great American plays.  A terrific production [really, I do support Out North, but I wouldn't lie to you either] is playing in town that makes this a great evening out in an intimate little theater where you can see the expressions on the actors' faces because you're that close.    It's playing until May 22, Thursdays-Sundays.  Get more information at Out North.

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