The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Glass Menagerie of the title is based, loosely, on a collection owned by Tennessee Williams' sister Rose, who, like the owner of the play's glass animals, had health problems. Williams said that for his sister they "stood for all the small and tender things that relieve the austere pattern of life and make it endurable to the sensitive".

It is this juxtaposition between the tender and the austere that lies at the heart of the play.

The action centres on a small apartment in St Louis, where Tom Wingfield (Sam Waterston) lives with his hectoring and strung-out mother Amanda (Katharine Hepburn, in a fine TV debut) and his sister Laura (Joanna Miles), who is both physically crippled and emotionally damaged.

The air is full of hopes and aspirations. Tom is desperate to leave his dead-end warehouse job to seek his fortune, while Amanda hopes for a career for her daughter and, more importantly, for a string of "gentleman callers" to come and whisk Laura off her feet. Laura, however, is painfully shy and has, largely, retreated into her own little world of music and glass animals, beautiful yet fragile, like herself.

Amanda, unable to cope with Laura's reclusiveness, hatches a plan with Tom to try to bring her out of herself, a plan laced with the thread of melancholy, which instinctively you know is unlikely to go as planned. Tom arranges for Jim (Michael Moriarty), a pal from work, to come to dinner, with unexpected consequences for them all.

Everyone appears trapped in a fixed position, like the animals in glass. "It don't take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin," says Tom, and, especially for him, it is the getting out that proves difficult.

With a play this good, even a pedestrian cast would be hard pushed not to shine, but, the addition of the kind of acting calibre on offer in this superior version results in a truly moving couple of hours. Hepburn is stunningly good as a faded Southern belle, filling her performance with moments of outrageous humour and melancholic pathos. Waterston, too - best known to audiences today, along with co-star Moriarty, as a member of the Law And Order cast - excels as a man desperate for escape, but tied by duty. Moriarty and Miles both won Emmys for their performances and it's easy to see why. Miles creates tension by her every move and the scenes between her and Moriarty are perfectly poised, the tension palpable.

Despite its American credentials, it is worth noting that this made-for-TV version was shot in Britain at the Rank Studios and it would be a shame not to give a measure of credit to British director Anthony Harvey, who does a fine job. Hollywood movies are peppered with tricks, designed to have you reaching for the tissue box, but there are no such snake-oil emotional highs and lows here.

Watch and you'll be genuinely moved.

Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2004
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A man in St Louis dreams of escape from his claustrophobic family.
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Director: Anthony Harvey

Writer: Tennessee Williams

Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Sam Waterston, Michael Moriarty, Joanna Miles

Year: 1973

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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