Sunday, September 07, 2008

I’m Disappointed but not Discouraged!


That phrase – used by Tennessee Williams in his play ‘The Glass Menagerie’ – will resonate with all writers attempting to get their manuscript published. He had – in spades - the diligence and tenacity every writer needs. Born in 1911 he had a rough childhood, with a father who was often drunk and sometimes violent, and who called his eldest son ‘Miss Nancy’. He attended the University of Missouri but his father insisted he should do his bit to get the family through the Depression and whilst Tom (his real name) was working at a shoe factory he started to write plays to alleviate the boredom. At 24 he had a nervous breakdown and recuperated with his grandparents who later supported him financially, so he could continue his education.

Whilst he was studying play writing at Iowa University he learned that his sister Rose, a sufferer of nervous ailments, had had a frontal lobotomy which left her with the mind of a young child. Tom changed his name to Tennessee and went to New York where he wrote his first one- act play. It closed at the end of an out- of -town run in Boston.

In 1942 he went to Hollywood; he was exempt from war service because of a heart condition, and offered a film outline ‘Portrait of a Girl in Glass’ which was rejected by MGM. So he turned it into a stage play; initially entitled ‘The Gentleman Caller’ and which ended up as ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ This was the play we went to see on Saturday in Bath.

It is a new production of the autobiographical play and has been lauded for its ‘high comedy and superb ensemble acting.’ I blinked when I read ‘high comedy’.

I have to come clean and tell you what I think.

Brenda Blethyn, an Oscar nominated actress plays the mother and also has been highly praised for her work. The daughter is clearly based on Rose and the son is Tom himself. The fourth character is a gentleman caller. In brief the mother is a faded southern belle who once famously entertained 17 gentlemen callers in a single afternoon. Her ambition now is to see her physically damaged, wallflower daughter receive a suitor and she bludgeons her son Tom to arrange a visit. The fourth character is the gentleman caller.

In my opinion high comedy has no place in this play. Excellent actress that she undoubtedly is BB is no faded southern belle. Like Dame Maggie Smith she has a distinctive voice which can either enhance a performance or become an irritant. Combined with an English version of a southern accent I found it to be the latter. The first act was very noisy and not the play I remembered. In the second act it got better and when the daughter and the gentleman caller were alone on stage it was sublime. I was totally engaged – hanging on every word and gasping when she stumbled in his arms and when he carelessly broke her precious glass unicorn. When they were about to kiss I stopped breathing. This was Tom’s play – haunting and lyrical and not being played for laughs.

The set, effects and music were all good. I must say that I am a lone voice; critics and audiences seem to be unanimous in their praise but I look back on Tom’s life and it sure wasn’t a barrel of laughs. Tom was played by Mark Arends and Laura and Jim were most beautifully played by Emma Hamilton and Andrew Langtree.


John said...

I entirely agree with you Pat, I could not see much comedy in this play. I saw it performed at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester a few years ago.

problemchildbride said...

It's true. A bad accent can ruin an otherwise fine performance. I reckon only Dick Van Dyke was ever able to surpass a truly awful Cockney accent with his performance. It somehow only enhanced the film!

Anonymous said...

He also wrote 'a street car named desire' right? It's such a shame when plays don't live up to the potential of the story.

PI said...

John I felt a little like the spectre at the feast with all that slightly nervous laughter all around.

Sam: and it helped that it was a light-hearted film.

Marjolein: yes - one of my favourites! He also wrote
'Sweet Bird of Youth' 'Cat on a hot tin Roof' 'The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone' and more.

Mei Del said...

i must say i don't remember any comedy in the play nor really in any of his plays, in fact he gave me a view of the South as a place of stifling propriety masking shocking scandals and i was bitterly disappointed when i went to stay in baton rouge with my cousin several years ago that the South is nothing like the South i'd seen dramatised ... er duh ...

PI said...

mei del: well I would have imagined it just the same. At least sipping mint juleps and floating round in diaphanous gowns in the steamy heat.

The Manic Street Preacher said...

Went to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a while back with Jax. William Gaunt was supurb as Big Daddy.

You'd make a good southern belle you know. Not faded either!!! ;-)

PI said...

Manic: why sugar - I do declare you say the the sweetest things.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

That is amazing that is was billed as a comedy of sorts...I mean there are gumorous things in the pkay, but, but, but....
I know the play very very well--And LOVE it! In fact back more than 30 years ago, I wrote original "Incidental" music for a lovely production done in Palm Springs.....I cannot imagine BB doing Amanda Wingfield. Indeed, she is a wonderful actress, but seems all wrong to me...I love Williams plays and was lucky enough to see many of them in their Original Broadway Productions---including this one, as well as "Streetcar Named Desire" with the incredible Brando!
(My first professional job was in a lovely production of "Streetcar"...I played women upstairs--Eunice Hubbell---)
"Menagerie" is such a delicate play in so very many ways...It sounds like the scene with The Genmtleman Caller was truly Sublime in the Bath Production! One of the things I miss most, Pat, being housebound, is going to the Theatre. So I love hearing about your theatre experiences....more, more, more...Please! (lol)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I could not think of Laurette Taylor's name while I was commenting before---(A lovely Senior THAT was one of the GREAT GREAT Performances of All Time! The "Orginal" Amanda....!

I really hate getting old and finding the Synapses so damn slow, sometimes...!

PI said...

Naomi: it's wonderful to hear your take on this and I am so relieved that you feel the same way. To work on those productions must have been a joy and to actually see Marlon when he was truly beautiful - wow!
Watching BB bustling round
I thought what a great Mrs Bennett she would make in 'Pride and Prejudice'
I'd love to have seen Laurette Taylor in anything:)

Eryl Shields said...

I don't know The Glass Menagerie, but have seen film versions of a few of his other plays and none of them have ever struck me as comedies. Doesn't sound all bad though, the daughter/caller bit sounds well worth the ticket price.

Didn't BB play Mrs Bennett in the last film version of P&P?

R. Sherman said...

Should you ever make it over here, I'll take you to where he was born.


PI said...

Eryl: the last film version of P and P I saw was with Greer Garson as Elisabeth but I did see a TV version with Alison Steadman as Mrs B and she gave an outrageous performance.
Whatever you do - do NOT google 'Cast of Pride and Predjudice'. I kept getting horrendous porn. Heaven to Betsy we had lollipops in my day:)

Randall: that's the best offer I've had in ages and am sorely tempted. I hoped it would ring a bell with you.