Thursday, February 20, 2020

Character Description in The Glass Menagerie

A Slap-Dash Production.

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.

This is a follow-up to the earlier post on authors' description of their characters. Included here is Williams' technique and criticism of the theatre. A second part might include a brief discussion of where this play fits in with others, and another topic or two.

In a play there are generally two ways characters are described: what a character says of self, and what characters say of each other. This is purely method. A third way, possibly used at the first showing of Williams's play, is the program brochure that identifies characters and players. The printed version of Williams's play has the names of the characters and a description of them; and this information might have come from a brochure. For example, one character, Amanda, is described, here shortened, as "A little woman of great but confused vitality clinging frantically to another time and place". A fourth device in The Glass Menagerie is a character who relates what occurs onstage, including remarks on other characters. This is Tom; and the first name of Tennessee Williams, who wrote an imaginary version of his early life.

In the production notes, Williams writes: "Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth. When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn't be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting experience, but is actually or should be attempting to find a closer approach to more penetrating vivid expression of things as they are."

He goes on to say that the straight realistic play "has the same virtue of a photographic likeness", which he finds unimportant. He states that the "plastic theatre...must take the place of the exhausted theatre of realistic conventions if the theatre is to resume vitality as part of out culture". He employed illuminated images, music, lighting to enhance his work.

The essay, "The Catastrophe of Success", looking back to the period of The Glass Menagerie, is interesting reading:

It concludes:
“In the time of your life—live!” That time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.

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