Welcome to the first of a new series on my blog — This Day in the Arts. Each Wednesday, I hope to bring you some vignette of theatre, music, dance, or visual arts history, with a few personal reflections. I know I will find this an interesting subject to delve into — I hope you will, too.
On this day in theatre history, a play opened in Chicago. Although it doesn’t happen as often anymore, at that time it was standard practice to try out plays “out of town” before they opened on Broadway. It was a play that was to become very well known in succeeding years, being performed not only on Broadway to great acclaim, but eventually all over the country, and indeed, the world. It was the first professionally staged play I ever saw.
The play? Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.
This story of a shy young girl, self-conscious because of a disability, her over-zealous mother eager that her daughter should have “gentleman callers,” and her brother, who, like his wayward father before him, feels the need to break out of the stifling atmosphere at home, resonated with me when I first saw it, staged with minimal sets, but with powerful acting. I can still picture some of the sets, hear some of the lines, and know those memories are from that stage production and not from some more recent experience of this play.
The fact that I remember those things after forty-four years says something to me about the power of theatre and acting, as well as of the power of Tennessee Williams’ play. Seeing something enacted on a stage can sometimes move beyond that stage/audience experience, and reach into one’s heart and mind and become a part of one’s person. Somehow, that’s what that performance of The Glass Menagerie did for me that evening so long ago.
From all accounts, The Glass Menagerie has had a similar powerful effect on audiences since the beginning. When the play opened on Broadway in 1945, the role of the mother, Amanda Wingfield, was played by one of the top stage actresses of the time, Laurette Taylor. She, apparently, was stunning in the role. What a shame that there was no filming of stage performances in those days — how I would love to be able to see, hear, feel her performance! This article from The Villager, although not directly about Ms. Taylor’s performance, still says enough about it that one can imagine what it might have been like to have been in the audience in The Playhouse Theatre some time in 1945.
I was twelve when I was first touched by the magic of theatre embodied in this simple but powerful play. It is an experience I would wish for all kids — that some play, some character, some theatre experience would reach deep within them, and become a part of their life for as long as they live.
Is there a play that has particularly resonated with you the way The Glass Menagerie did with me?