The last time I read The Glass Menagerie I was in high school, and I remember Laura's monologue about how she got the name "Blue Roses" as a popular choice for teen girls auditioning for drama club. Back then, I was sure the play was all about a put-upon young woman who just wanted to polish her little glass collection, listen to records and be left alone. I kind of felt bad for the limping girl who had been sickly in high school, but otherwise wasn't particularly moved by Tennessee Williams or my teachers' protestations about his genius.
I have recently been re-educated.
This weekend, two friends and I went to the Seattle Rep's production and spent the entire two hours squirming uncomfortably at Suzanne Bouchard's brilliant performance as Amanda Wingfield. Though her character's experience as an aging Southern belle is worlds away from the lives my suburban book-group members and I lead, we couldn't help but see our mother-selves reflected in this 1940s version of a modern-day helicopter parent.
Now, it didn't help that immediately prior to driving to the theater I had nit-picked my children on the inconsiderateness of their choice to eat the left-over Halloween candy without asking, or that each of my friends had her own hidden guilt about recent interactions with her children over homework or social plans or behavior. So when, right from the first scene, Amanda Wingfield started up with her incessant harping, each of us sat in her own private torment, desperate for intermission.
Thank God for the ginger-infused Maker's Mark Manhattans they were serving in the lobby!
Gulping down our cocktails, we reassured ourselves that we would never be so overbearing as to creepily comb a son's hair while lecturing him about his late nights at the movies... but we confessed to worrying, more often than we thought our own mothers did, about who our children's friends are and what kind of futures their high school grades would predict for them or whether they were getting enough hours of sleep at the slumber parties they're always going to.
"Back off!" we wanted to scream at the stage... and we had to admit that sometimes our children probably want to shout something similar in our direction. Here was "truth," as Tom says in the opening lines of the play, "in the pleasant disguise of illusion."
Tennessee Williams, at least, gives his single-mother character a little bit of a break, describing her this way:
"There is much to admire in Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at. Certainly she has endurance and a kind of heroism, and though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is tenderness in her slight person."
Endurance and heroism -- Yes! We've got that, too. What a relief.
Williams also says in his notes for Scene I, that he wrote the play to capture "memory," which "takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart."
For me, of course, this means that, depending on how powerfully my children were attached to that Halloween candy, my outburst may someday replay in their memories, on a poetically dimly lit stage and with an air of melancholy.
I made sure to make my tender apologies as soon as I got home.