Points to Ponder
With The Glass Menagerie, Williams was making a concerted effort to come up with a new theatrical aesthetic. Mid-century audiences were accustomed to strict realism, but The Glass Menagerie deliberately stages scenes to look somewhat artificial. If you pay close attention to the stage directions, you'll soon notice this. Even in the first scene in which Amanda and Laura are eating dinner, they are only miming -- they lack utensils and food. And one of the last stage directions, for example, has Amanda comforting Laura on the couch after Jim has left. Williams has Amanda act very deliberately, with each action conveying an essential kernel or nugget of emotion. Each action, that is, is symbolic: "Amanda's gestures are slow and graceful, almost dancelike, as she comforts her daughter. At the end of her speech she glances a moment at the father's picture -- then withdraws through the portieres. At the close of Tom's speech, Laura blows out the candles, ending the play." Williams called this technique "'sculptural drama,'" saying that "'I visualize it as a reduced mobility on the stage, the forming of statuesque attitudes or tableaux, something honed down only to the essential or significant.'" How can we think about Laura's menagerie itself in terms of questions about posing? How are the animals in an eternal pose? What might they signify? Think about their transparency and their delicacy, too. How might these qualities epitomize what Williams was striving for in "statuesque attitudes"? And then again, how might they offer a counterpoint or different perspective on the concept of staging? They are, of course, staged by Laura on her shelf, but are terribly vulnerable up there -- knocked off by traffic and any small movement. As Laura tells, Jim, "Oh, be careful -- if you breathe, it breaks!"
Tom rails throughout the play against Americans' attitude towards the movies. They are enraptured with watching characters live exciting lives full of motion, he says, only to contentedly return from the viewing experience to stagnant, routine lives. How might Williams' play comment more widely on the spreading influence of the media and pop entertainment? For example, how might the staging be seen to work against our expectations? If we read the production notes, we see that "[s]hafts of light are focused on selected areas or actors, sometimes in contradistinction to what is the apparent center. For instance, in the quarrel scene between Tom and Amanda, in which Laura has no active part, the clearest pool of light is on her figure." If Tom criticizes the movies for always showing characters in motion, thus giving the viewers a false sense of having moved themselves, how do the lighting and other stage directions work to oppose this? And furthermore, how does the fact that this is, as Williams tells us, a "memory play," allow Williams to tweak representational conventions? We can think here of the way in which legends appear on a screen as a kind of foreshadowing or cryptic illumination of a tone or a scene. What does this kind of expression allow Williams to do? What kind of an atmosphere does it create within the play? Does this atmosphere work in contradistinction to the movies that Tom speaks of? In what ways does it seem similar?
Williams borrows from German Expressionism -- striving to represent his characters' tumultuous inner states rather than the mundanity of their daily grind. He achieves this through techniques such as the screens on which legends -- often stilted or cryptic phrases or phrase-image combinations -- are projected. How might Laura's limp be considered in terms of this project? How does the way in which her leg brace limits her range of motion contribute to -- or perhaps epitomize -- Williams' efforts to depict the discomfort of psychic life?
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Points to Ponder
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