In the past two weeks, I traveled to New York City to see my daughter Jessica, to California to visit my long-time friend Winnie and to Dallas to attend another dear friend’s wedding – and spend time with other friends and my son David. Along the way, I met several people, saw many sights and gathered blog ideas. This is the first in a series of posts from my travels.
Saturday night October 12th
Jessica and I sat in the second row orchestra, off to the side, and time-traveled back to a small St Louis apartment in the 1930’s. The lights dimmed as soft music sounded and Tom the narrator stepped to the front of the stage.
“This play is memory.”
And the reviewers agreed – The Glass Menagerie is about memory. But for the former editor of the New Yorker Magazine Robert Gottlieb, that memory was seeing Laurette Taylor’s performance when he was 15 years old in the spring of 1946. And in his review of this current production, Ben Brantley of the New York Times noted several on screen and onstage actresses of the role of Amanda: Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris, Joanne Woodward, Katharine Hepburn, Sally Field, Jessica Lange – and Laurette Taylor, the first Amanda from nearly 70 years ago. Mourning Taylor’s loss in 1949, Tennessee Williams wrote:
“I feel now – as I have always felt – that a whole career of writing for the theatre is rewarded enough by having created one good part for a great actress. Having created a part for Laurette Taylor is a reward I find sufficient for all the effort that went before and any that may come after.”
Actors and actresses can certainly make or break a production. But from my perspective, I think a successful show relates to the degree to which the author and players invite the audience into the story, to walk around in their characters’ shoes.
Was I Tom, the poet, ‘Shakespeare’ working a warehouse job, the restless young man in scenes, the older man as narrator looking back at his family with nostalgia, guilt and remorse, frustration, anger and love?
Was I Amanda, a single parent holding back reality by trumpeting her glory days all the while doing what she could to pay the bills? As the mother of two children, one failing to thrive and the other more like a husband substitute, Amanda nagged and worried and yelled and cried and laughed and made a fool of herself.
Was I Laura, shy and sickly, a loving daughter and sister, afraid to step into life, living in a fantasy world of glass, crippled?
Was I the gentleman caller, polite, encouraging to Laura, there to play a role for an evening, to enjoy some past glory of his own and afterwards return to reality of disappointment and love?
During intermission, I overheard a mother, sitting next to me, chirping to an older man seated on the aisle. “Oh, my son is a very talented actor. He wants to play Hamlet on stage.” Next to her, the maybe-15-year-old boy beamed.
Amanda and Tom, 2013? After the show, I wondered if the teenaged boy had a sister Laura, and if she was out dancing with her gentleman caller.