Het is vandaag 75 jaar geleden dat “The Glass Menagerie”, het stuk van Tennessee Williams, werd gecreëerd in The Playhouse Theatre op Broadway. Op bovenstaande foto’s herken je van links naar rechts: Anthony Ross als Jim O’Connor, Laurette Taylor als Amanda Wingfield, Eddie Dowling als Tom Wingfield en Julie Haydon als Laura Wingfield.

The Glass Menagerie is a memory play by Tennessee Williams that premiered in Chicago in 1944 and catapulted Williams from obscurity to fame. The play has strong autobiographical elements, featuring characters based on its author, his histrionic (*) mother, and his mentally fragile sister Laura (**).

The play was reworked from one of Williams’ short stories “Portrait of a Girl in Glass” (1943; published 1948). The story is also written from narrator Tom Wingfield, and many of his soliloquies from The Glass Menagerie seem lifted straight from this original. Another basis for the play is a screenplay Williams wrote under the title of The Gentleman Caller. Williams had been briefly contracted as a writer to MGM, and he apparently envisioned Ethel Barrymore and Judy Garland for the roles that eventually became Amanda and Laura, although when the play was eventually filmed in 1950, Gertrude Lawrence was cast as Amanda and Jane Wyman as Laura. Arthur Kennedy was Tom and Kirk Douglas Jim. Williams characterized this version, which had an implied happy ending as the worst adaptation of his work. 

The play premiered in Chicago in 1944. The play had not found an audience and production was being considered for closing after the opening night in Chicago. The producers wanted more changes and were heavily pressuring Williams for a happy ending. But after a shaky start 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. The Glass Menagerie was Williams’ first successful play; he went on to become one of America’s most highly regarded playwrights.

Laurette Taylor’s performance as Amanda set a standard against which subsequent actresses taking the role were to be judged, typically to their disadvantage. In the 2004 documentary Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There, Broadway veterans rank Taylor’s performance as the most memorable of their lives.

The characters and story mimic Williams’ own life more closely than any of his other works. Williams, who was close to Rose growing up, learned to his horror that in 1943 in his absence his sister had been subjected to a botched lobotomy. Rose was left incapacitated (and institutionalized) for the rest of her life. With the success of The Glass Menagerie, Williams was to give half of the royalties from the play to his mother. He later designated half of the royalties from his play Summer and Smoke to provide for Rose’s care, arranging for her move from the state hospital to a private sanitarium. Eventually, he was to leave the bulk of his estate to ensure Rose’s continuing care. Rose died in 1996, thirteen years after Tennessee Williams himself.

Wikipedia

(*) Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive attention-seeking behaviors, usually beginning in early adulthood, including inappropriate seduction and an excessive need for approval. Associated features include egocentrismself-indulgence, continuous longing for appreciation, and persistent manipulative behavior to achieve their own needs. People diagnosed with the disorder are said to be lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, and flirtatious. HPD is diagnosed four times as frequently in women as men.

(**) Vandaar de titel: Laura spends much of her time polishing and arranging her collection of little glass animals. Pressured by his mother to help find a caller for Laura, Tom invites Jim, an acquaintance from work, home for dinner. He and Laura share a quiet dance, in which he accidentally brushes against her glass menagerie, knocking a glass unicorn to the floor and breaking off its horn. Jim tells Laura that he is engaged to be married and he then leaves. It is possible that Jim was only making up the story of the engagement as he felt that the family was trying to set him up with Laura, and he had no romantic interest in her.

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