“I begin with a character in a situation—a vague one. If I have a problem, I invent people in parallel circumstances, create parallel tensions. It is my way of working out problems.” —Tennessee Williams
“Truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” is how Tennessee Williams’ alter ego Tom Wingfield describes the story that he is about to tell us, at the start of The Glass Menagerie. Though all of Williams’ work is personal in the extreme, only this early autobiographical play is based directly on his own family: his mother Edwina, his sister Rose, and himself. His father, who in the play had deserted his family sixteen years ago, was actually an on-and-off again presence in the life of the Williams family. The parents’ relationship was so toxic that everyone might have been better off if he actually had fallen “in love with long distance” and severed his ties with his family permanently. Williams also had a younger brother, Dakin, who is left out of the play entirely, and an extended family including a grandfather with whom he was very close.
But by choosing to focus intently on the insular triangle of mother-brother-sister, Williams is able to peel back layer after layer of these characters and relationships, revealing complex human beings and illuminating issues of love, dependency and responsibility that ring as true today as they did 70 years ago when the play was first performed. Anyone with a family—that is, all of us—can find themselves in the rich humanity of this timeless and beautiful play.
Director Mary B. Robinson