Five things we learned about 'The Glass Menagerie'

From left: ‘The Glass Menagerie’ Dramaturg Stephanie Prugh, Scenic Designer Joe Tilford, Director Ina Marlowe, Costume Designer Meghan Anderson Doyle and “Perspectives” host Douglas Langworthy. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

“Perspectives” is a series of free conversations hosted by DCPA Theatre Company Literary Director Douglas Langworthy with cast and crew on the evening of each first preview performance. On Sept. 9, Langworthy was joined by Director Ina Marlowe, Scenic Designer Joe Tilford, Dramaturg Stephanie Prugh and Costume Designer Meghan Anderson Doyle to discuss The Glass Menagerie. Here’s some of what we learned:

1 PerspectivesWhat’s in a name? Tennessee Williams first conceived his story as a film originally to be called The Gentleman Caller. Williams had been hired as a writer for MGM in 1940, making a then-princely sum of $200 a week. But when he presented his treatment to his own studio, his bosses turned it down. The script then morphed into an autobiographical play that Williams labored over for the next three years.

2 PerspectivesPerspectives Quote The Glass MenagerieShe had how many Gentlemen Callers? In the play, matriarch Amanda Wingfield recalls the days of her youth when she lived in the fictional town of Blue Mountain and had 17 Gentlemen Callers on a single Sunday afternoon. Amanda is based on Tennessee Williams’ mother, Edwina, and Amanda is modest by comparison. “Edwina Williams once entertained 30 suitors in one day,” said Dramaturg Stephanie Prugh. “She was very popular during her time. It was only when the family moved to St. Louis in 1918 that she started retreating more and more into her past.” Because of the play, we think of Amanda as one of the most imposing characters in stage history. But did you know? In real life, Edwina Williams was only 4 feet, 11 inches tall.

3 PerspectivesThe wilting Rose. You likely know that Laura Wingfield is based on Tennessee Williams’ actual sister, Rose, who descended into schizophrenia and in 1937 had one of the first pre-fontal lobotomies ever performed in the United States. In real life, Tennessee, too, was asked by his mother to bring home a Gentleman Caller. He brought home a boy from school, but Rose already was showing signs of mental illness. “One of the beautiful parallels is his sister’s mental illness in real life becomes Laura’s physical disability in the play,” said Prugh. But Amanda Wingfield should not be played as if she is out of her mind. “In many productions, they have Amanda in la-la land,” Marlowe said. “I just don’t feel that’s true. Her motivation for everything she does was strongly rooted in her love for her children. Not that it was effective – it very rarely was. But I want this play to have love at its center.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

4 Perspectives“It’s a perfect play.” While The Glass Menagerie is universally regarded as an American classic, Marlowe takes it one step further. “Very infrequently do you find a play that is this perfectly written,” she said. “Even among Tennessee Williams’ plays, it is just a jewel. Even though A Streetcar Named Desire is wonderful and expansive, it’s not as perfectly constructed as The Glass Menagerie, in my opinion. Williams gives us all of the information that we actually need to know about the play in the first paragraph”:

“The Wingfield apartment is in the rear of the building, one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units that flower as warty growths in overcrowded urban centres of lower-middle-class population and are symptomatic of the impulse of this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society to avoid fluidity and differentiation and to exist and function as one interfused mass of automatism.”

5 PerspectivesThat’s no ordinary photo. The Wingfield patriarch abandoned the family 16 years before, “so there is a tremendous hole in the family where he used to be,” Marlowe says. Not only are these characters haunted by his absence, added Scenic Designer Joe Tilford, “this place is haunted by his absence, too.” So how do you portray the magnitude of that absence onstage when a framed 8×10 just won’t do? “Whenever I have seen a production of The Glass Menagerie, I have been frustrated by the lack of the photograph’s ability to haunt us,” said Marlowe. “Tennessee Williams calls him the fifth character in this story, but he never appears except in this photograph. So we have this giant projection of him. Sometimes he dims, and sometimes he lights up a little but more. But he’s always there. He is very, very present in the story.”

Read more about it: As a memory play, much of what audiences will see in the play is not represented as historical or literal, but rather with an unreliable, dreamlike quality.  What does memory look like? And how do you make memory real on a stage? Read more about Director Ina Marlowe and Scenic Designer Joe Gilford’s design concept.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

The next Perspectives will cover Frankenstein at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, in the Jones Theatre. It’s free.

The Glass Menagerie: Ticket information
• Through Oct. 16
• Ricketson Theatre
• ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Oct. 15
• Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
• Groups: Call 303-446-4829

Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Glass Menagerie:

2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics
Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
Casting set for The Glass Menagerie
First rehearsal: This will be no wimpy Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie: A modern visual twist on an American classic
Meet the cast: Amelia Pedlow

Meet the cast: John Skelley

Photo gallery: The making of The Glass Menagerie:

'The Glass Menagerie' in Denver

Photos from the making of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ in Denver. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above.

Follow the DCPA on social media @DenverCenter and through the DCPA News Center.

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