The contents of The Glass Menagerie are few; one room and four and a half characters: Tom Wingfield, Laura Wingfield, Amanda Wingfield, the gentleman caller, and a picture of Mr. Wingfield, staring at them through it all.
With so little to work with, it’s expected that not much happens, and that’s partially true. In the one room where everything occurs, there are no epic quests, no passionate loves, and no valiant heroes. Rather, this room houses beautiful lighting that looks like silhouettes on sunsets as we watch reality unfold while the characters see only their dreams.
Whether it’s Amanda Wingfield, the mother, dreaming of her lost past and her daughter’s future gentleman caller, or Tom, dreaming about his escape, they’re all deluded, they all see a reality that isn’t real.
Yet regardless of the illusion that this family lives in, there are moments in The Glass Menagerie that are so relatable and tangible and so uncomfortably close to the heart that the knee-jerk reaction is to swat them away. Swat away the pestering mother, Amanda Wingfield, and not bother to look for the love underlying all her actions. Swat away the distressingly fearful sister, Laura Wingfield, and not bother to see the perceptiveness hidden in her silence. Swat away the selfish Tom, and ignore his underlying longings that are so similar to our own.
Swat them all away and choose to ignore how similar they all are to ourselves.
We are like Tom and Laura and Amanda. We sacrifice, we quietly wish, and we fear. And like them, we all live in our own illusions in some way.
The Wingfield family eventually learns that dreams aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Playwright Tennessee Williams wasn’t fond of the happy ending (as evidenced by his other plays, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and this play isn’t an exception. By the end, this sad little family that lives in their dreams is coldly brought back to reality.
It doesn’t exactly bring the warm fuzzies, but it’s life.
And that’s why there will be many different interpretations of The Glass Menagerie, because it’s a play so chock full of life; full of recognizable moments that happens secretly in households when no one is around; full of the things you think about before bed, when no one is listening. This play tastes like life and even if it’s not conventionally enjoyable, The Glass Menagerie forces a mirror in front of your face, that’s what makes it so worth seeing.
The Glass Menagerie
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through December 2