The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ most directly autobiographical drama, deals with many of the themes which characterize much of his body of work. However, the play’s plot is relatively uneventful and much of the play’s power is through its use of motif and symbolism.
Presented as a memory play, told retrospectively from protagonist Tom’s memory of mother Amanda and his sister Laura during his life at home, the play has often been seen as a parallel for Williams’ own family, with Laura, particularly, being seen as a parallel to his sister Rose.
Amanda’s obsession to find the shy and reclusive Laura a ‘gentleman caller’ drives the narrative which all takes place in their small apartment, symbolic of the sense of physical and mental claustrophobia which pervades the characters’ lives.
As a play driven by a relatively uneventful plot line I feel The Glass Menagerie takes particular skill to do well.
This is not a drama of epic proportions, in fact, quite the opposite, this is a play about the things which remain unsaid, unseen and hidden from view. It was for that reason that I would like to particularly commend the use of silence throughout David Thacker’s production of the play.
The most powerful moment was itself a moment of silence. In the second act Tom brings home a ‘gentleman caller’ for Laura, a friend from school named Jim who we discover is known also to Laura; when Amanda asks Laura if she’s ever liked a boy her response is to show her the picture of Jim in the school yearbook.
Despite her initial paralysing shyness towards Jim the two are left alone and she becomes less shy. It was the tension and nervous excitement of the atmosphere throughout this scene which was particularly powerful. Within the tenseness of the atmosphere was a suggestion of reserved emotion and a slight mutual tenderness which was captivating to watch and highly emotive.
This scene’s most evocative moment for me, was the moment in which Laura entrusted Jim with her glass unicorn, her most treasured of the small glass figurines which she keeps, of ‘the glass menagerie’ to which the title refers.
The act of Laura giving Jim the small glass figurine is highly symbolic, then, a sign of trust and courage, overcoming her protectiveness over the glass figure suggests a metaphorical overcoming of her paralysing anxiety as a result of Jim’s kindness and attention.
Here the silence of the moment as Laura placed the unicorn onto Jim’s outstretched hand, as she placed it carefully with utmost concentration created such a silence I became slightly aware of my own breathing, for a moment. This was, without a doubt the most powerful, poignant moment of the play.
For me, all the symbolism and tension of the drama were held in that moment which made me realise that not only is Williams’ drama itself as much about what is not said but a successful performance is often the result of the way in which the company use moments of silence as much as the speech and action.
Five Stars out of Five.
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