The Glass Menagerie
|The Glass Menagerie|
1st edition cover
|Cover artist||Mazyar Kashani|
The Glass Menagerie is a four-character memory play by Tennessee Williams. Williams worked on various drafts of the play prior to writing a version of it as a screenplay for MGM, to whom Williams was contracted. Initial ideas stemmed from one of his short stories, and the screenplay originally went under the name of 'The Gentleman Caller' (Williams envisioned Ethel Barrymore and Judy Garland for the roles that eventually became Amanda and Laura Wingfield although Louis B. Mayer insisted on casting Greer Garson as Laura).
The play premiered in Chicago in 1944. It was championed by Chicago critics Ashton Stevens and Claudia Cassidy whose enthusiasm helped build audiences so the producers could move the play to Broadway where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1945. Laurette Taylor originated the role of the all-too-loving mother, Amanda Wingfield. In the 2004 documentary Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There, Broadway veterans nearly unanimously rank Taylor's performance as the most memorable of their entire lives. The Glass Menagerie was Williams's first successful play; he went on to become one of America's most highly regarded playwrights.
The play was reworked from one of Williams's short stories "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" (1943; published 1948). The story is also written from the point of view of narrator Tom Wingfield, and many of his soliloquies from The Glass Menagerie seem lifted straight from this original. Certain elements have clearly been omitted from the play, including the reasoning for Laura's fascination with Jim's freckles (linked to a book that she loved and often reread, Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter). Generally the story contains the same plot as the play, with certain sections given more emphasis, and character details edited (for example, in the story, Jim nicknames Tom "Slim", instead of "Shakespeare").
The Glass Menagerie is accounted by many to be an autobiographical play about Williams's life, the characters and story mimicking his own more closely than any of his other works. Williams (whose real name is Thomas) would be Tom, his mother, Amanda, and his sickly and (supposedly) mentally ill sister Rose would be Laura (whose nickname in the play is "Blue Roses", a result of an unfortunate bout of pleurosis as a high school student). It has been suggested as well that the character of Laura is based upon Williams himself, referencing his introvert nature and obsessive focus on one part of life (writing for Williams and glass animals in Laura's case).
- Amanda Wingfield
- A faded Southern belle abandoned by her husband who is trying to raise her two children under harsh financial conditions. Amanda yearns for the comforts from her youth and also longs for her children to have the same comforts, but her devotion to them has made her – as she admits at one point – to almost be "hateful" towards them.
- Tom Wingfield
- Amanda's son and Laura's younger brother. Tom works at a shoe warehouse to support his family but is frustrated by his job and aspires to be a poet. He escapes from reality through nightly trips to the movies and local bars. Tom feels both obligated toward yet burdened by his family. He feels he is grossly misunderstood by his mother.
- Laura Wingfield
- Amanda's daughter and Tom's older sister. A childhood illness has left her with a limp, and she has an inferiority complex that has caused her to be isolated from the outside world. She has created a world of her own symbolized by her collection of glass figurines.
- Jim O’Connor
- An old high school acquaintance of Tom and Laura. Jim was a popular athlete during his days at Soldan High School and is now a shipping clerk at the same shoe warehouse in which Tom works.
- Mr. Wingfield
- Amanda's absentee husband and Laura and Tom’s father. Mr. Wingfield was a handsome man who worked for a telephone company and "fell in love with long distance", abandoning his family 16 years before the play's action. Although he doesn't appear onstage, Mr. Wingfield is frequently referred to by Amanda and his picture is prominently displayed in the Wingfields' living room.
Plot summary 
The play is introduced to the audience by Tom, the narrator and protagonist, as a memory play based on his recollection of his mother Amanda and his sister Laura.
Amanda's husband abandoned the family long ago. Although a survivor and a pragmatist, Amanda yearns for comforts and admiration she remembers from her days as a fêted Southern belle. She yearns especially for these things for her daughter Laura, a young woman with a limp and tremulous insecurity about the outside world. Tom works in a warehouse doing his best to support them. He chafes under the banality and boredom of everyday life and spends much of his spare time going to the movies at all hours of the night. Amanda is obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura, who spends most of her time with her collection of little glass animals. Eventually Tom brings home an acquaintance from work named Jim, who Amanda hopes will be the long-awaited suitor for Laura. Laura realizes that Jim is the boy she loved in high school and has thought of ever since. After a long evening, Jim and Laura are left alone by candlelight in the living room, waiting for electricity to be restored. During their long scene together, Jim diagnoses Laura's inferiority complex and kisses her. Jim and Laura then share a quiet dance, and he accidentally brushes against the glass menagerie, knocking the glass unicorn to the floor and breaking off its horn. After Jim reveals that he is already engaged to be married, Laura asks him to take the broken unicorn as a gift and he then leaves. When Amanda learns that Jim was engaged she assumes Tom knew and lashes out at him.
As Tom speaks at the end of the play, it becomes clear that Tom left home soon afterward and has never returned. In Tom's final speech, he bids farewell to his mother and sister, telling Laura to blow out the candles in her room, which she does as the play ends.
Original Broadway Cast 
The Glass Menagerie opened in the Playhouse Theatre on March 31, 1945 until June 29, 1946. It then moved to the Royale Theatre from July 1, 1946 until its closing on August 3, 1946. The show was directed by Eddie Dowling and Margo Jones. The cast for opening night was as follows:
- Eddie Dowling as Tom Wingfield
- Laurette Taylor as Amanda Wingfield
- Julie Haydon as Laura Wingfield
- Anthony Ross as Jim O'Connor
Film adaptations 
Two Hollywood movie versions of The Glass Menagerie have been produced. The first directed by Irving Rapper in 1950, starring Gertrude Lawrence, Jane Wyman, Kirk Douglas, Ann Tyrrell and Arthur Kennedy. Williams characterized the former, which had an implied happy ending grafted onto it, as was the style of American films from that era, as the worst adaptation of his work. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote, "As much as we hate to say so, Miss Lawrence's performance does not compare with the tender and radiant creation of the late Laurette Taylor on the stage." The film has never been released on either VHS or DVD.
The second film directed by Paul Newman in 1987, starring Joanne Woodward, John Malkovich, Karen Allen, and James Naughton, and if anything, was even less well-received than the earlier film and sank without much attention. It is also not available on DVD.
There is a critically acclaimed Indian adaptation of the play, filmed in the Malayalam language. The movie titled Akale (meaning At a Distance), released in 2004, is directed by Shyamaprasad. The story is set in the southern Indian state of Kerala in the 1970s, in an Anglo-Indian/Latin Catholic household. The characters were renamed to fit the context better (the surname Wingfield was changed to D'Costa, reflecting the part-Portuguese heritage of the family — probably on the absent father's side, since the mother is Anglo-Indian), but the story remains essentially the same. Prithviraj Sukumaran plays Neil D'Costa (Tom Wingfield in the play), Geethu Mohandas plays Rosemary D'Costa (Laura Wingfield), Sheela plays Margaret D'Costa (Amanda Wingfield), and Tom George plays Freddy Evans (Jim O'Connor). Sheela won the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress, and Geethu Mohandas won the Kerala State Film Award for the best actress.
Radio productions 
The first radio adaptation of the play was performed on Theatre Guild on the Air in 1951 starring Helen Hayes as Amanda with Montgomery Clift as Tom, Kathryn Baird as Laura, and Karl Malden as Jim. A 1953 adaptation appeared on the radio series Best Plays starring Evelyn Varden as Amanda and Geraldine Page as Laura. Jane Wyman recreated her film role of Laura for a 1954 adaptation on Lux Radio Theatre with Fay Bainter as Amanda and Frank Lovejoy as Tom and Tom Brown as Jim. The 1953 version is not known to survive but recordings of the other two are in circulation.
Television productions 
The first television version, recorded on videotape and starring Shirley Booth, was broadcast on December 8, 1966 as part of CBS Playhouse. Hal Holbrook played Tom and Pat Hingle played the Gentleman Caller. Booth was nominated for an Emmy for her performance as Amanda.
There was also a second television adaptation which was broadcast on ABC on December 16, 1973, starring Katharine Hepburn as Amanda, Sam Waterston as Tom, Michael Moriarty as Jim, and Joanna Miles as Laura. It was directed by Anthony Harvey.. (Tom's initial soliloquy, so striking onstage, is cut from this version; it opens with him walking alone in an alley, sitting on a rampart to read the newspaper and having his sister's and mother's voices conjure up the first domestic scene.) All four actors were nominated for Emmys, with Moriarty and Miles winning.
Later Stage Performances 
In 1997, Kiefer Sutherland returned to his theatrical roots, starring with his mother, Canadian actress Shirley Douglas, in a Canadian production of The Glass Menagerie at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.
Jim O'Connor tells Laura that he went to the Chicago World's Fair "the summer before last." However, the Chicago World's Fair closed in 1934, meaning the action of the play takes place no later than the Summer of 1936. Tom makes a couple of references to Guernica in his soliloquies; the event happened in April 1937. The play is usually referenced as happening in spring of 1937. However, as the play is a memory play, Tom could be narrating in the spring of 1937 events that occurred in years previous to 1936.
When Amanda asks Jim to take the candelabra and wine glass out to Laura, she asks if he can manage both. In the original script Jim says, "Sure, I'm Superman." The Superman character did not appear in comics until 1938's Action Comics #1. The phrase already existed from English translations of ubermensch in works by Nietzsche, whom Williams often references in his plays. The line is altered in the Acting Edition to "Well, I can try."
The evening of scene 6, Amanda describes the moon as a "little silver slipper." Tom says it is "rising over Garfinkel's Delicatessen." An evening crescent moon would be setting, not rising.
These could be considered lapses in memory on Tom's part, or artistic license on Williams' part.
The Glass Menagerie was parodied by Christopher Durang in a short one-act entitled For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, in which Laura is replaced by a wimpy hypochondriac son named Lawrence, and the "gentleman caller" becomes Ginny, a butch female factory worker with a hearing problem. Lawrence, instead of prizing a collection of glass figurines, here is obsessed with his collection of glass cocktail stirrers.
- The Glass Menagerie, New Directions, reissued in 2011 with an Introduction by Tony Kusher, ISBN 978-0-8112-1894-8
- "The Collected Stories of Tennessee Williams", New Directions, 1985, page 110, ISBN 978-0-8112-1269-4
- Lyle Leverich, "Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams", W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. (April 1, 1997) ISBN 0-393-31663-7
- IMDB - Here Without me http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1874522/
- Detailed plot summary and analysis of "The Glass Menagerie"
- The Glass Menagerie at the Internet Broadway Database
- Study resource for writing about The Glass Menagerie
- Of Glass Menagerie & Fire-escape
- 1951 Theatre Guild on the Air radio adaptation at Internet Archive