The Glass Menagerie

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The wall of windows wears permanent rain streaks, like scars. It careens into a corner where it collides with a second wall, solider, dominated by a lone portrait: A young man in a uniform. He gazes out over the worn apartment like some benevolent Christ. But something in his eyes suggests he is not to be relied on.

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When Laura enters the room, her movements are distinctly deliberate. And slow. It takes a minute before I notice the wrappings around one leg. The subtle limp. She is crippled. (Her family’s word, not mine.) More crippling than the leg itself is her excruciating shyness. It is the reason she has been expelled from business school, a fact which she can not bear to tell her mother. All the love which she might have bestowed upon a boy, or some babies, is instead poured into her collection of delicate glass animals. Their fragility she understands, better than  most.

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We meet Tom on the fire escape. It is appropriate. Between worlds. Not quite in, not quite out. He is trapped by responsibility, by the drudgery of working a job he hates, so as to provide for his mother and sister, whom he loves. But his soul is hungry. In snatches of time, he writes. He goes to the movies. He drinks. He goes out on the fire escape to smoke. All to find a moment’s relief from the stifling reality that is his life. He dreams of flight.

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Their mother is always bustling. Always scheming, scolding, or prodding in an attempt to secure a good life for her children. Her only diversions are the stories. Stories of her glory days when there were so many suitors vying for her attention, and the world was more cultured and polite, and the future was a bright sky full of promise. These stories drip with regret.

Theirs is a tenuous existence, fraught with perils both real and imagined.

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Enter Jim O’Connor. Tom has reluctantly dragged him home from work at his mother’s bidding. It has become clear to Mrs. Wingfield that Laura’s only hope is to make a good marriage, and as she will not go out to where the boys are, the boy must come to her. A great many preparations are made to show the apartment, and Laura, to their best advantage.

After a horrifying start, the evening actually goes much better than expected. To a point. But heartache has worn such deep tracks that–like the streaks across the windows–they are not easily scrubbed out…

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Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie has become a time-honored classic because it enters into difficult places with surprising clarity and honesty. Complex and layered characters ache to scavenge some bits of light from the bleak world that has been handed them.

Studio Tenn has rendered this weighty story artistically and sympathetically. From the set design which pulls you right into their close, beleaguered space to the spellbinding performances of the actors, it is impossible to watch without truly sensing the deep tragedy. And which of us does not have our own experience with tragedy? And isn’t it important, now and then, to have our hearts expanded by entering into the suffering of another?

The show plays again this weekend from Thursday through Sunday. I highly encourage you to see it. Find tickets HERE.

*All photographs in the post copyright Anthony Matula.