|by Tennessee Williams|
|Directed by Robert Cuccioli|
As an actor, I have been primarily involved in the world of musical theatre for most of my career. As a director, my first two experiences were with musicals as well. So, how did I end up choosing to direct a classic American drama such as THE GLASS MENAGERIE? Actually, it chose me. When Bonnie Monte surprisingly offered me the opportunity to direct the play, I said, "let me read it," falling back on the line I use when I haven't a clue as to what my answer might or should be! Absurd -- as if I really had to see if it were a good play or not! In truth, the idea of tackling THE GLASS MENAGERIE was a little frightening, to say the least, and in fact, I hadn't read the play for many years. I also didn't know much about the life of Tennessee Williams or his body of work, and the idea of tackling such a well-known and revered classic was daunting. What new insights could I offer? What does an Italian boy from Long Island know about the American South or the sensibilities of those who grew up there? However, as I read the play over and over, I discovered the characters to be more familiar than I expected.
Williams based the "inhabitants" of THE GLASS MENAGERIE on real people he knew all too well -- his own family. For the first 30 years of his life, he was living THE GLASS MENAGERIE, and it was from that often traumatic experience that his masterpiece, this "little play" as he would disdainfully call it, evolved. The piece is, in essence, a "what if" depiction -- an idealization of what might have happened had his father actually been the person Tennessee wanted him to be. Williams's actual father never abandoned his family, perhaps because he lacked the courage to leave, thereby proving to be a profound disappointment in his son's eyes. It is, as well, a depiction of what might have happened had his mother been left dependent upon her son and to be the sole caretaker of her daughter.
As children, Thomas Lanier Williams and his sister, Rose, sought their father's love in vain. "Tennessee," as he later dubbed himself, was able to take refuge in his writing. Rose, however, was not able to deal with the shock of outright rejection, and that hurt, compounded by her later disappointments in love, gradually eroded her sanity. In 1937, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic and was admitted to a state asylum. Six years later, Rose underwent a prefrontal lobotomy (one of the last ever performed) as a "cure" for her mental illness. Within THE GLASS MENAGERIE are echoes of Williams's guilt for not protecting Rose from that operation. His mother, Edwina, was a woman of remarkable strength and complexity. She had the gift of gab and has since been blamed for everything from her daughter's lobotomy to her son's homosexuality. The character of Amanda Wingfield is what Edwina might have been had Tom become the unwilling head of the family.
In addition to learning all that I could about Tennessee Williams and his life, my research for THE GLASS MENAGERIE included reading most of the Williams canon. It is true that his plays represent a broad exploration of life in the South. At their best, however, they rise above regionalism and achieve universality. Most often it is the family unit -- in all its messy dysfunction -- through which Williams strikes his universal chords. All of us can, and will, recognize parts of ourselves and our family members mirrored in the shards of glass that make up the brilliant whole of THE GLASS MENAGERIE.
One of the most important themes of THE GLASS MENAGERIE is the issue of responsibility, and the conflict that arises in trying to fulfill self-imposed or perceived contracts of responsibility. For each character in the play, that responsibility is specific and individual. In the case of Tom, our narrator, he feels trapped in a life that doesn't inspire or suit him, and he longs for something more: a life of adventure. Yet his responsibility toward his sister, Laura, keeps him prisoner, feeling desperate to "escape from a coffin without removing one nail."
Is there a Hell? Some say that we are all living it here on Earth. Nowhere is that sentiment more prevalent than in the character of Tom Wingfield. In escaping the unhappiness of a home where he feels suffocated and trapped, he has doomed himself to another hell. He has traded his job at the warehouse for one at sea. There is no suggestion that the desertion of his mother and sister has been sanctified by the liberation, or public acknowledgment, of his talents as a writer. Like his father before him, he has fallen in love with long distance, mistaking movement for progress. He is living in his own Hell -- or Purgatory, perhaps. Tom is trapped in a sort of "twilight zone" where he is doomed to repeatedly tell his story in the hope of achieving an understanding of his actions. Forgiveness and redemption would be even better, but the more Tom plays out his piece, the more he realizes that one cannot change the past. With each retelling, the pain worsens. He cannot shake his responsible nature, his guilt, or his grief.
I, myself, am a man with a responsible nature. Most of us are. The conflict between responsibility towards family and responsibility to one's self is something I understand deeply and have struggled with for much of my life. So, what could I offer this play and those who view it again or for the first time? A piece of myself.
-- Robert Cuccioli
"My greatest affliction...is perhaps the major theme of my writings, the affliction of loneliness that follows me like a shadow, a very ponderous shadow too heavy to drag after me all of my days and nights."
-- Tennessee Williams, 1979