A play about overcoming adversity and the undefeatable human spirit is coming to Thomas Haney secondary.
Sightlines Theatre is putting on The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, a play that catapulted the famous American playwright to fame when it premiered in 1944.
“The play is a dream piece. It is entirely a flash-back. It’s told from the perspective of the character of Tom Wingfield,” said director Shelley Evans, the fine arts department head at Thomas Haney.
The play opens with a famous monologue by Tom who is looking back at the apartment he grew up in.
He grew up in St. Louis with a dysfunctional mother and an absent father, whose presence in the play is a looming portrait on top of the mantle.
His older sister, Laura, is pathologically shy.
“She speaks to all of the high anxiety kids we have in our society and she cocoons herself away in the apartment with this collection of glass animals that she has acquired over the years,” Evans explained.
Tom’s mother, Amanda, was the daughter of wealthy plantation owners in a place called Blue Mountain in Mississippi.
“She grew up in this sort of Gone With the Wind like environment. This big plantation house with cotillions and coming out parties and gentlemen callers and servants. But she married this guy who works at the telephone company,” said Evans.
It’s implied that she probably ended up pregnant before she was married and her family disowned her.
Amanda has two children with her husband before he deserts her.
“It’s set in the late 1930s … a very apocalyptic time in American society. And here is this single parent with two children, no job skills, who manages to scrape by and raise these two kids,” Evans said, explaining that from that perspective, she is a remarkable, resilient woman.
However Amanda is also a controlling mother and her son Tom wants to join the Merchant Marines to break free from her grasp, even though he is deeply loyal to his sister.
Amanda convinces Tom to bring home a gentleman caller for his sister and he complies bringing home, Jim, who Evans says is a “lovely ray of sunshine in this otherwise very dark and dysfunctional home.”
It turns out that Laura and Jim went to high school together before she dropped out due to a limp she was self conscious about.
Laura shows Jim her collection of glass figurines, singling out a unicorn.
She explains to him that the unicorn is special because it is not like all of her other glass horses. Even though they get along well enough, they are different.
When Jim accidentally breaks the unicorn’s horn, Laura takes it well, explaining that it is okay because the other horses won’t make fun of it anymore.
Before the play jumps to what is considered present time, Jim admits to Laura that he is not the boy for her because he is already engaged.
The present finds the apartment empty and Tom in the marines, haunted by his sister’s memory.
“It’s really all about Laura finding herself and Jim escaping and even Amanda overcoming incredible adversity in an extremely difficult time in American history,” explained Evans.
Evans chose to perform this play because it is iconic and so “indoctrinated in colloquial speech.
“There are so many quotations that people will recognize that they will go, ‘Oh, that’s from The Glass Menagerie, I never knew that,’” said Evans.
One of her favourite lines from the play is, “‘Time is the furthest distance between two points.’
“It speaks about how we distance ourselves from people. Not only in physical distance, which Tom eventually does when he joins the Merchant Marines, but it’s the passage of time,” said Evans.
“That time and distance are inextricably connected with one another.”
She added that it also speaks to being far away from someone and still feeling connected to them, just like Tom is drawn back to his memories of Laura.
New to this year’s production will be a revolving stage, constructed by the stage craft students at Thomas Haney.
This way the set can revolve from the outside of the building to the interior of the apartment easily.
The school has also invested in a new lighting console.
“We retired the 25-year-old strand board and we now have a brand new ETC board,” said Evans.
This will allow the crew to do programmed fades and to integrate LED lighting.
“This is a brand new fully digital board so that students that are going into technical theatre and are going on into post secondary or into the industry, they are going to be using ETC consoles. It is pretty much standard in the industry now,” said Evans.
There will also be two complete casts for the play that will alternate performance nights.
Ultimately, Evans says the play is about having hope even when things seem at the darkest.
It’s about resillience.
It also speaks to the subtleties of the psychology of anxiety, and in Laura’s case, agoraphobia, where she doesn’t even want to connect with the world around her.
“She has all of the hallmarks of the classic anxiety psychosis, which is increasingly dominating the landscape of the workplace, the schoolyard,” said Evans, who believes anxiety is a huge issue even today.
“I think that sometimes we think, ‘Oh well, you know, anxiety is a big issue in school, but once you hit 18 it’s all okay again.’ Well, it’s not and I think we need to address that as a society and realize that anxiety issues just don’t evaporate because students age out of a system,” she said.
Evans finds reassurance that although there are dark aspects of the play, you can leave the theatre knowing that Laura, Amanda and Tom are okay.
“I don’t think that Laura ever became a public speaker and won a Nobel Prize, but I think that she probably became employable and I think that she probably did end up having friends,” said Evans.
“And that for her was an incredible accomplishment.”
• Sightlines Theatre presents The Glass Menagerie at 7 p.m. June 1, 2, 5, and 6 at Thomas Haney Ssecondary, 23000 116 Avenue, Maple Ridge.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the door or by calling 604-463-2001, extension 58431.