Neither Marti Gobel nor Dennis Johnson knew when they planned out their season that Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” would be the final show Uprooted would produce. But there’s a certain serendipity to the choice. The play creates an accidental bookend to a Tennessee trilogy: Uprooted’s first production after debuting with “Beauty’s Daughter” was “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and they also held a staged reading of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in October 2012, about halfway through their six-year tenure.
But Johnson says “Suddenly Last Summer” goes back to Uprooted’s beginnings. “Other than ‘Beauty’s Daughter,’ it’s literally the first show that I pushed for and suggested. So, as far as that’s concerned it’s coming full circle,” Johnson says. He will direct the production, running May 14 to 24 at Next Act Theatre.
A one-act play that premiered near the end of Williams’ most fruitful artistic period, in 1958, “Suddenly Last Summer” is one of Williams’ most autobiographical shows, according to Johnson. It features an overbearing maternal figure (like Williams’ own mother) named Violet, who is plotting to have her niece Catherine lobotomized (as happened to Williams’ sister Rose). Her rationale: Catherine has been defiling her memories of her son, Sebastian, whom Catherine watched die while vacationing in Spain the summer before.
Johnson says the play deals heavily with the perception of mental illness — an issue close to Williams’ heart, due to his sister’s institutionalization. Out of all the gay writer’s plays, he says, it’s also the one that deals the most head-on with homosexuality, as many of Catherine’s incoherent mutterings reveal Sebastian’s concealed sexual orientation. “It’s alluded to a lot in other shows, but this has probably the most blatant references to it,” Johnson says.
While many of Uprooted’s shows have been hybrid staged readings, this last production will be fully produced, with a set that isn’t confined to Next Act’s stage. Johnson says the whole play takes place in the family garden, a tropical, even “prehistoric” setting. “I’m wanting the audience to walk in and not see a garden on the stage but walk up into a garden. … It’ll be overwhelming in a positive way.”
“Suddenly Last Summer” will run May 14 to 24 at Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee. Performances are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $12-$28 and can be purchased at uprootedmke.com.
Uprooted Theatre was born out of a simple realization: Over decades, Milwaukee had inadvertently developed a longstanding, unofficial tradition of actors, directors and designers of color training in the city only to leave and make their careers elsewhere. The company’s four founding artists — Marti Gobel, Dennis Johnson, Travis Knight and Tiffany Yvonne Cox — made it their job not just to break that tradition themselves, but make it easier for other artists of color to do the same.
The fact that Uprooted did such a phenomenal job over the last six years made the announcement that the company was closing all the more disappointing. From 2009 to 2015, the company gave numerous artists of color their first professional roles in the city, developed the well-received Against Type fundraiser and launched the Milwaukee Diversity Generals, which drew more than a dozen companies from Chicago and across Wisconsin to see actors’ auditions last year. And, perhaps most importantly, the company helped spark a conversation in the theater community about race and ethnicity, both in the plays that are staged and the artists chosen to create them.
But nonetheless, there the announcement was, in a Facebook post published by the group on March 23: “After much soul-searching and looking at the budget, we have decided to dissolve Uprooted Theatre following the close of our full production of ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ by Tennessee Williams.”
But while both Johnson and Gobel, the two founders who remain active members of the company, are both sad to dissolve Uprooted, neither of them sees the last six years as anything but a success.
“Maybe this is me being pompous, but I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it,” Johnson says. “We achieved what we were trying to do. We’re going out on top. … I think we had a good run.”
Gobel, speaking via email, is more succinct: “We did great things and we helped so many people. I’d do it all again. Truth.”
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
Every theater company starts with a conversation, but it took two different plays to spark Uprooted’s. Gobel and Knight, both Milwaukee Rep interns, connected with Johnson while performing in a production of ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus’ The Persians at Renaissance Theaterworks. The two then worked with fellow understudy Cox on Trouble in Mind, depicting the backstage drama of a mixed-race cast tackling a problematic anti-lynching play in the 1950s, at the Rep.
As rehearsals for that second show progressed, Gobel says, the three of them realized how strange it was that this was the first time any of them had worked on a play rooted in the African-American experience that was also directed by an African-American (Timothy Douglas). As they continued to discuss and analyze that lapse, they included Johnson in the conversation and began to realize that the four of them could contribute to the solution, all by starting an African-American-run theater company of their own.
That company started small and picked up steam fast. Uprooted’s first production, a one-woman show by Dael Orlandersmith called”Beauty’s Daughter,” didn’t even include Knight and Cox, as both were under contract with summer stock theaters elsewhere. Director Johnson and actor Gobel produced the show without them, each contributing $500 for the Broadway Theatre Center’s rental fee and hoping for success — knowing that, if they didn’t sell seats, they’d lost $1,000 before they even started.
Just the opposite occurred. The show received rave reviews and practically sold out, giving the company the momentum to launch the Against Type fundraiser (in which artists perform scenes from roles they wouldn’t normally be cast in for reasons of gender, race or age) in the fall, and productions of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” (in partnership with Renaissance) early the next year.
Six years gave Gobel and Johnson a lot of time to determine what sort of company Uprooted was going to be. Initially, the company started to focus on stories of African-American culture and black playwrights. But as time passed, Johnson says, their objectives began to broaden. “We realized that we were sort of limiting others the way we felt limited, so then we wanted to include all people of color — and not even just of color, people that weren’t really working in other houses who should be,” Johnson says.
LEAVING A LEGACY
But as wonderful as Uprooted’s success was for its artists and the Milwaukee theater community at large, that success would ultimately lead to its end. As the company grew, so too did the administrative and financial responsibilities. Once Knight and Cox left active participation in the company, Gobel became the only member of the team working as a full-time theater artist, and many of those administrative duties fell to her by necessity, compromising her ability to fulfill other responsibilities both professionally and as a wife and mother of four.
The ideal solution, Johnson and Gobel say, would have been to hire a managing director, but there was no way for the company to afford it at this point and no way to grow without stretching Gobel past her limits. Ironically, the only way for the members of Uprooted to be free to do the work they started the company for was to close the company. “I personally felt that I could donate my time to up-and-coming theater organizations and still focus on my own career with the dissolving of Uprooted,” Gobel says.
Johnson says Uprooted Theatre will officially cease to exist on May 25, after the final show, “Suddenly Last Summer,” closes (see sidebar, prior page). But the most important elements of the company will continue on. They will continue to stage Against Type every year, donating the proceeds to a local charity. And Johnson would like to continue staging a cabaret series the company recently started, although installments will be irregularly scheduled for the time being.
And Johnson and Gobel still hope to collaborate on the initiative that has the potential to be the biggest piece of Uprooted’s legacy: the Milwaukee Diversity Generals.
Modeled after traditional general auditions, where aspiring, non-union actors audition for a panel of casting directors from multiple theaters in a city or region, Uprooted originally conceived the Diversity Generals as a way to cast actors of color for their 2014–15 season. But as news spread, more and more companies, of increasing stature, asked to join the auditions. By the day of, the 50-odd actors auditioning were seen by representatives from 13 Milwaukee theaters, including the Milwaukee Rep, American Players Theatre and Forward Theatre, as well as Chicago’s acclaimed Goodman Theatre and a Chicago film and television agency casting for “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago PD,” among others.
Johnson hopes that he and Gobel can help coordinate next year’s Milwaukee Diversity Generals and keep it going biennially. “It was a necessity that hadn’t been filled before. Companies may think the talent isn’t here to fill minority roles … but they are here. They just haven’t been seen.”
Johnson and Gobel have no intention of ending their efforts to improve that visibility. “Milwaukee is not fixed. It’s just better,” Gobel says. After all, seeing actors of color audition is only the first step, she adds — there are administrative offices still lacking diversity in their staffing and directors of color who are not hired to direct plays revolving around the Caucasian community while Caucasian directors take on stories about the African-American experience.
And while Uprooted may have done more than any company before it to shatter that unofficial tradition of artists of color leaving Milwaukee and Wisconsin for cities that provide them better opportunities, one company can’t erase that migration all on its own.
Gobel, Johnson and Uprooted have taught the theater community what can be achieved. It’s up to that community to carry on their new tradition and erase the old.
To walk around the French Quarter today, it is impossible to believe that New York literary types once sniffed that New Orleans was a “cultural swamp.”
OK, that was almost a century ago. But still, writers and artists have flocked here since before the Civil War. Yet the writers we know best came for inspiration long afterward: Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein.
It’s difficult to put your finger on what makes New Orleans unique. According to local historian Kenneth Holditch: “People came here by desire, ready to seduce, to be seduced.”
Perhaps the most “seduced” of them all was Tennessee Williams. He is as revered in New Orleans as Aaron Rodgers is in Wisconsin. Williams wrote novels, poems and short stories, but his best-known works are plays such as “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” He is widely considered one of the foremost playwrights of the 20th century.
Williams was a prominent figure in New Orleans for most of his adult life. He rented many apartments throughout the French Quarter. He also owned his only home here, which is located on one of the quieter streets.
A Glimpse into Tennessee Williams’ Past
As with most of the homes located in the wrought-iron-adorned French Quarter, Williams’ home is relatively unimpressive from the outside. Only when one passes through the iron gate and walks into the courtyard, can one fully appreciate its charm.
There are more wrought-iron balconies inside the courtyard, of course, and the exterior walls are painted in pale, sandblasted colors of yellow and peach. During a visit in March, there was only a hint of the lush foliage that was to come later in the season. An assortment of iron baskets on one exterior concrete wall, containing dried-out twigs, promised to bloom into an overflowing riot of colorful blossoms come summer.
The glistening, bean-shaped pool looked inviting on this 80-degree day, as gardeners trimmed the palms and other plants. People still live in these apartments, even the one Williams called home.
The complex was open as part of a walking tour of Tennessee Williams’ haunts, held in conjunction with the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, a five-day celebration of Williams and other American writers.
Williams never got used to owning such a large space, ultimately splitting the house into apartments and renting out most of them. Sadly, he didn’t spend much time in the house before his death, but it is remembered that he loved the swimming pool, and swam in it almost every day.
Our tour guide, a jovial, handsome man named Phillip, saw Williams often when the famous playwright was in town. That’s because he was among Williams’ favorite waiters at Marti’s, a restaurant located down the street from his house. Phillip took the small group inside the restaurant and pointed out where Tennessee Williams preferred to sit — at a booth in the corner. The booth was part of a raised section in the restaurant, and it held a commanding view of the entire place. The small restaurant had perhaps 25 tables.
Phillip was 20ish during his time at Marti’s, about the same age as Williams was when he first journeyed to New Orleans from St. Louis. Phillip, who has studied Williams’ history, noted that the first place Williams stayed during his initial visit was a back hallway behind Preservation Hall, the famous jazz band hall in the French Quarter that packs in tourists every night. Williams camped out with friends for a few nights before he found better quarters.
Even when he became famous, Williams preferred to keep a quiet presence in New Orleans. Philip noted that he refused any preferential treatment at Marti’s or elsewhere, recalling a story of how Williams once stopped going to a bar in the French Quarter because the owner refused to charge him for drinks. He kept conversation with the staff to a minimum. If his regular booth was taken, he would sit at any open table, with as little fuss as possible.
Dining In Southern Style
Unable to resist Tennessee Williams’ “favorite” restaurant, (or at least, the closest to his house), I gathered a group of colleagues to get dinner at the bistro. No reviews were formally written, but the critics’ unofficial opinion was a universal thumbs-up.
I selected one of the more modestly priced entrees, trout amandine with green beans ($28), and bread pudding with a tiny white pitcher of rum crème anglaise ($10). Both proved to be excellent options. The pudding came baked in its own mini-bread pan, and was meant for two — but the other half served as delicious leftovers the next day.
Alcoholic drinks throughout the touristy French Quarter tend to be pricey. At a top-tier restaurant, specialty cocktails run $14 to $17; wines (by the glass) are about the same price. If you are looking for a bargain, Bourbon Street (i.e., party central) draws afternoon bar flies with 2-for-1 or even 3-for-1 specials.
Do give regional spirits a try, even if your favorite pour is beer or wine. Many are as fruity as they are potent. Options range from hurricanes and sazaracs (both invented in New Orleans) to “Red Lights” and the gin-and-Champagne cocktail the “French 75.”
Here’s a fact to make Wisconsin bar owners drool: In the French Quarter, bars are allowed to be open 24/7. If one over-imbibes, there are regular cabs and bicycle-powered rickshaws to take partygoers to their hotel.
Playwright, Poet — and Painter?
For the next month, a trip to New Orleans also offers the opportunity to see a different side of Tennessee Williams as an artist. Williams became an amateur painter later in life. Many of his paintings were created after he moved to Key West, where his oils on canvas were so popular with locals there they would buy them before the paint was dry.
It’s from Key West that New Orleans is temporarily getting a rare collection of Williams’ paintings. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is featuring an exhibit of paintings given by Williams to his friend David Wokowsky, on loan from the Key West Historical Society, through May 31.
Williams’ paintings are colorful, whimsical and fluid. They are often titled after the names of his poems. Williams also painted naked images of his male “ideal,” as well as a fairly realistic portrait of the actor Michael York.
There is much of Tennessee Williams’ New Orleans to see year-round. Bronze plaques throughout the French Quarter pay tribute to the places he and other famous writers, playwrights and musicians stayed and hung out.
For those who can’t get enough of the Williams’ allure, however, check out the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. Williams wrote a mountain of work during his adult life, so there’s no chance of running out of new and undiscovered treasures of his talent.
IF YOU GO
The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival runs every spring and celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2016. Visit tennesseewilliams.net or call 800-990-3377 for more details.
This year TW/NOLF co-produced an LGBT literary festival, Saints + Sinners, with the NO/AIDS Task Force of New Orleans. Visit sasfest.org for more information.
Marti’s can be found at 1041 Rue Dumaine, New Orleans. Reservations suggested. Call 504-522-5478 or visit martisnola.com.
Literary tours of Tennessee Williams’ haunts, as well as those of other famous authors, can be scheduled by private groups of 20 or more. A two-hour tour is about $25. Many other tours of the French Quarter, Garden District, etc., are offered daily (and some evenings). Contact the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau at 504-566-5011 or neworleanscvb.com.
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is at 925 Camp St., about a 20-minute walk from the French Quarter. Admission is $12.50, $10 for seniors, students and those with a military ID. Visit ogdenmuseum.org for more details.
— Anne Siegel
Fresh from her role as opera diva Maria Callas in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Master Class, Milwaukee actor and playwright Angela Iannone is ready to try something different. And nothing could be more different than the role of Amanda Wingfield, the abandoned wife and faded Southern belle of The Glass Menagerie.
In Tandem Theater opens its production of the Tennessee Williams classic, starring Iannone, on Sept. 25.
Although it’s not her first experience with Williams — Iannone has played Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof — Iannone says Amanda presents an entirely different set of challenges. And she’s looking forward to them.
I spoke with her about those challenges.
How is this role different from Williams’ other faded Southern belles? Williams’ plays are, to my mind, American plays of manners. His women seem to come from a place of social structure — civility, appearances, good graces and expectations of gentle treatment from the world — and they are continually disappointed. Williams’ women run into trouble when they are asked to speak the truth, and truth for Williams is the thing that breaks the world.
The Glass Menagerie is different from other Williams plays because it is a memory play. The audience sees Amanda through her son Tom’s eyes and hears her voice as it is remembered by Tom.
As such, there can be no resolution for the characters. Amanda doesn’t get to “finish” like Williams’ other characters. Her resolution, if there is one, is not one that Tom saw because he left. This is a far more delicate play in walking the line between “now” and “then” than most audiences realize.
This was Williams’ earliest play, the one that launched his career when it was first performed in 1944. It is also said to be his most autobiographical work. Williams has said that Amanda, and Blanche DuBois, too, are more autobiographical than factual. It is popular and current to say he based those women on his own mother, and perhaps some of that is true. But as a playwright myself, I can say that all of my characters speak with my voice, just different facets of it.
I believe the same thing is true of Amanda. She’s one facet of Williams’ own voice. She is, however, also an invention: a fantastic creature he created for his own dramatic purposes.
Some scholars have said that the role of Amanda Wingfield is one of the greatest female roles in American theater. Do you agree? Interesting question. Tennessee Williams is one of our great American playwrights, and Amanda has certainly been a great character for many of our great American actresses, but I don’t know that I personally would put her in the pantheon of great American roles for women. I don’t want that to sound dismissive or disdainful — it isn’t at all. But if you ask a group of dramatic lit professors that question, you are likely to get a parade of broken, dysfunctional and suicidal women, most of them completely uninteresting to me. The play belongs to Tom, not to Amanda, however interesting the role of Amanda may be.
What are some of the great roles that you have played? Medea was one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever played, at least in Robinson Jeffers’ version of the story. Playing Kate Hepburn in Tea at Five was pure delight, and I adored playing Sarah Bernhardt in Memoir, even though I did think the play was pretty terrible. I had a ball playing Mae West in Dirty Blonde, but I thought I was too tall and thin to do her justice. I have played Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, have been Lady Macbeth twice, and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream six times, all but one of which were fun and very satisfying.
I have even had some small success in American musical theater, where I believe most of the great women’s roles migrated. Playing Roxie in Chicago and Adelaide in Guys & Dolls were both enormous fun.
What is the state of female roles in theater today. Would you describe the characters as fully evolved? Well, it depends what you mean by fully evolved. As a 19th-century scholar, I can say with certainty that there are some fabulous female roles in most of those old scripts. Marguerite in La Dame Aux Camelias used to be the judgment mark of a successful actress. Anything from the repertories of the greatest of the grande dames like Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse are terrific, meaty and complex roles, but are they considered fully evolved? I adore Restoration comedies and there are some awesome roles for women in them.
Essentially, I do not believe any time period has a lock on “the truth” or “great writing” when it comes to developing great roles for women, and contemporary stereotypes are no more truthful or interesting than those of past eras. Is the role of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a better or more evolved role than Clytemnestra in Agamemnon? Not to me it isn’t. I have no interest in Martha, but I’d love to play Clytemnestra.
Contemporary takes on the classics do a lot of gender-bending, like my drag role as Henry IV and as Boyet in Love’s Labour’s Lost, but I’m never certain how successful those are, or even should be. I confess to a great deal of discomfort with gender-bending, even when it works.
In Tandem Theatre presents Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St., Milwaukee, from Sept. 25 to Oct. 19. Go to intandemtheatre.org or phone 414-271-1371.
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Before his mother became the model for Blanche DuBois of A Streetcar Named Desire and his sister the inspiration for Laura Wingfield of The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams drew upon a college girlfriend — if only in name —to tell a story of desire, drunkenness and regret.
“Crazy Night” is a work of short fiction unseen by the general public until this month’s release in the spring issue of The Strand Magazine, a quarterly based in Birmingham, Mich. The story is narrated by a college freshman, who confides about his romance with senior Anna Jean. Williams, while attending the University of Missouri at Columbia, briefly dated fellow student Anna Jean O’Donnell and wrote poetry about her.
“It (‘Crazy Night’) seems to have been written when Williams was rather young, probably around the 1930s,” said Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli, who has previously unearthed works by Mark Twain, Joseph Heller and Robert Louis Stevenson.
“The funny thing is that Williams in his notebooks and memoirs went into a lot of detail about his love affairs, but with Anna Jean he made only a passing mention. Could this be the missing piece of the puzzle?”
Gulli found the story in the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, one of the country’s top literary archives.
“Crazy Night” is set on an unnamed campus in the early ’30s, after the stock market crash of October 1929 and before the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, when “students graduating or flunking out of college had practically every reason for getting drunk and little or nothing that was fit to drink.” The title refers to a ritual at the end of spring term, during which students are expected to binge on alcohol and sex, a bacchanal “feverishly gay” on the surface but “really the saddest night of the year.”
“There is a theme of disappointment, the old ‘mendacity theme’ from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Gulli says. “He could show how beneath the cloak of respectability his characters had horrible insecurities and dark secrets. Williams was a master of showing the desperation and need humans have for companionship and was equally skilled at showing how relationships go sour and lead to cynicism.”
Williams was celebrated for his plays, but he wrote short stories for decades, many appearing in the 1985 anthology Tennessee Williams: Collected Stories. In the book’s introduction, Williams’ friend Gore Vidal wrote that the stories were essentially a fictionalized diary for Williams, who died in 1983.
“Whatever happened to him, real or imagined, he turned into prose,” Vidal wrote. “Except for occasional excursions into fantasy, he sticks pretty close to life as he experienced or imagined it. No, he is not a great short story writer like Chekhov, but he has something rather more rare than mere genius. He has a narrative tone of voice that is wholly convincing.”
Williams’ language in “Crazy Night” is sensual and romantic, with the kind of dramatic turns of phrase that Blanche DuBois might have used, whether referring to a “black cloud of incipient terror” in the narrator’s mind or savoring the night air that “came in cool and sweet, faintly scented with a flowering vine.”
Even in more restrictive times, Williams wrote openly about sex, and “Crazy Night” includes a scene in which male students, most of them freshmen and virgins, are brought into a room and paired off with girls.
“It was handled in a very businesslike manner,” Williams wrote, “almost like vaccination the first day of school, each boy being allowed about five minutes, going in sort of white and trembling and coming out very loud and excited with a sheepish look on his face — indicating quite plainly the difference between an initial success or failure in the sexual skirmish.”
According to Williams’ memoir, published in 1975, he and O’Donnell had a “poignant and innocent little affair.” In his poem “To Anna Jean,” he calls her a “well-staged play, with lights and screens,” a description that could have applied to Blanche and other Williams heroines. In “Crazy Night,” the narrator loses Anna Jean to another student, but not before they enjoy “the ultimate degree of intimacy.”
“Both her arms were lifted toward me,” Williams writes. “I had fallen between them. And the rest of what happened between us was a blind thing, almost involuntary, drawing from us both something that seemed hardly a part of ourselves.”
Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” is considered to be the iconic gay American playwright’s most autobiographical work. The drama of the Wingfield family and its dashed dreams, crystallized in a collection of small glass animals, opens American Players Theatre’s summer season at Touchstone, the intimate 201-seat indoor theater on the company’s Spring Green campus.
“The Glass Menagerie” is only APT’s second foray into Williams’ work. “The Night of the Iguana” was performed Up the Hill at APT’s outdoor amphitheater in 2007. But “Menagerie” marks a step forward for the company both in terms of intimacy and in exploring some of Williams’ most poignant themes, according to director Aaron Posner.
“This is one of Tennessee Williams’ great works and unquestionably a seminal work of American dramatic literature,” Posner said. “I think of the play as emotionally autobiographical, in the sense that it was inspired by real people in his life and speaks a great deal to how life feels to him, even though the events are not the ‘real’ events of his life.”
Premiered in Chicago in 1944, “Menagerie” is introduced as a memory play by the character of Tom Wingfield (Darragh Kennan), who represents the playwright (whose real name was Thomas) as a younger man. Tom recalls his life in a cheap St. Louis apartment with his mother Amanda Wingfield (Sarah Day), a former Southern belle abandoned by her husband, and his sister Laura (Susan Shunk), who suffers from a disability. The three scrape by financially and emotionally, all of them living lives of extreme disappointment.
Amanda yearns for all that she has lost, not only for herself but for a daughter whose world centers on a collection of miniature glass animals. Amanda is determined to find a suitor for Laura, and when Tom brings coworker Jim O’Connor (Marcus Truschinski) home for dinner, she has great hopes. But some things are simply not meant to be, and subsequent actions lead to the dissolution of what little family there was to begin with.
“Williams was remembering something that occurred during the Great Depression,” said Day, who plays Amanda. “We’ve all had different expectations during our youth than what our lives turned out to be, and this speaks to anyone who has survived economic tough times or whose life didn’t go as anticipated.”
From a literary standpoint, “The Glass Menagerie” is a play about broken promises and disappointed expectations, and scholars note themes that range from the failure of capitalism to the failure of families and even fathers, who leave their loved ones in dire emotional and economic straights. As a play about families in general, and Williams’ family in particular, the narrative may strike some as being close to home.
“I think when you are dealing with family, you always see yourself in multiple characters, since that is the reality of a family,” Posner said. “We tend to be so intertwined with our families, particularly a complex and troubled family like the Wingfields – that it is often hard to say exactly where one ends and another begins.”
The family component has always operated centrally to “The Glass Menagerie,” which developed almost concurrently as a screenplay for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which had Williams under contract at the time. The play, reworked from Williams’ short story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass,” opened to critical acclaim in Chicago, going on the next year to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
The most famous anecdote about the play concerns the night Williams’ mother Edwina Williams saw the play and refused to acknowledge any connection to the character of Amanda, which the playwright had based on her. Despite his mother’s denial, the Wingfield family helped establish Williams as a major playwright and continues to be a source of autobiographical angst for those who experience it.
“Whenever you put family members on stage together you have something special,” Day said. “For all the hardship and hurt, there is still an undercurrent of love. I hope that audience members walk away better appreciating their own families.”
“The Glass Menagerie” runs June 21-Oct. 15 at American Players Theatre’s Touchstone Theatre in Spring Green. Go to www.americanplayers.org.