“I am having THE GLASS MENAGERIE typed up… and I am not displeased with the outcome. That is, when I consider the terrible, convulsive struggle it was to do the thing and what a frightful, sentimental mess it might well have been…
“I think it contains my sister, and that was the subject.” — Tennessee Williams, 1944 letter to Margo Jones*
THE GLASS MENAGERIE indeed contains William’s sister Rose (“Laura” in the play), lobotomized for mild mental illness in 1945, the year of the work’s Broadway opening. This lyrical “memory play”—the playwright’s first great success—enriched both the American theater and its author; a decidedly mixed blessing in the case of the latter:
“The sort of life that I had had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before, but it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created.
“I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed. I was out on a level plateau with my arms still thrashing and my lungs still grabbing at air that no longer resisted. This was security at last.
“I sat down and looked about me and was suddenly very depressed.” — Tennessee Williams,“The Catastrophe of Success,” 1947
The ideal setting for any production of this chamber piece of regret and flight is a darkened cave or the back room of a dive bar. In a new version at the International City Theatre, the author (“Tom” on stage as in life, played by Ty Mayberry) enters stage right in his sailor’s peacoat and takes us back through a night from his recent past in his former home. The dramatis personae: an asocial sister (Lizzie Zerebko) and her collection of glass figurines, a domineering mother (Jennifer Parsons, recalling Imelda Staunton) desperate to get her daughter married off, a gentleman caller (Emilio Garcia-Sanchez) whose imminent arrival has turned the house upside down, and brother-narrator Tom—trapped in a dead end job, itching to get away,“attempting to find in motion what was lost in space.”
In this gem of a production, the actors have been astutely cast by director John Henry Davis, and Tom’s goodbye to his sister—“Nowadays the world is lit by lightning…”—hits with particular force.
Through September 9.
Beverly O’Neill Theater
330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach.
* The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, vol. I, 1920–1945, ed. Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler (New York: New Directions, 2000), 532.
Top: Ty Mayberry (left), Lizzie Zerebko, and Jennifer Parsons in the International City Theatre production of
The Glass Menagerie.
Middle: Mayberry and Emilio Garcia-Sanchez.
Bottom: Mayberry and Zerebko. All photographs by Tracey Roman.