Instead of Tom Wingfield stepping out of the mists of time to tell the audience of the sad, suffocating life he led with his mother and sister in the St. Louis tenements, director Gordon Edelstein reimagines the play as if it is first being put to paper by Tennessee in an equally seedy hotel room in New Orleans' French Quarter.
[caption id="attachment_5834" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Patch Darragh in The Glass Menagerie
photo by Joan Marcus"][/caption]
"The great thing about this production," says Patch Darragh, who plays this alter ego-turned-author typing out his painful past, "is that I get to be the boy in St. Louis and the man in New Orleans writing a play. This is a man who has now embraced himself as a gay man, as a writer, as a lover of language and as a poet."
The homosexuality of Tom/Tennessee is pronounced in this version. "I didn't want to overemphasize his gayness," director Edelstein says, "but it always seemed to me when Tom was going to the movies — what was he really doing? We all know there was a gay subculture then. It seems likely, to me, he was going to gay clubs."
Darragh took this cue and ran with it. "It's not explicit in the text, but, the more I worked on it, I thought, 'That's an important part of the puzzle of Tom Wingfield.' It's not the only thing eating at him — there're other things — but it's important. Why else is that drunk scene in there, except to take the mask off and say, 'Here I am'?"
The scene in question has Tom stumbling home late from "the movies," accidentally waking his sister Laura and telling of the magic act he had just seen. He even swiped the magician's scarf as a souvenir.
"That was a scene that almost never works for me when I see the play," the director admits. "I never understood why it was there until I wondered if the discussion of that magician was, in some way, a kind of coded version of an early gay experience.
"There's a whole story behind the writing of that scene. It was the last scene written. It wasn't in the play when it first started in Chicago. Eddie Dowling, who was the producer and the original Tom, insisted that that scene be written and actually wrote a version of it first, then Tennessee got so annoyed he wrote his own version."
This is not the first time Tom has been portrayed as gay. John Malkovich gave him a lavender tinge in the 1987 Joanne Woodward movie remake, which was directed by her husband, Paul Newman. "I got to work with him on the last thing he ever did," Darragh cheerfully volunteers about Newman, meaning the last Broadway version of Our Town. "I was Baseball Player #2 and Dead Guy #4, and had five lines."
A Tom Wingfield was actually in attendance on opening night March 24: Sam Waterston, who played the part opposite Katharine Hepburn's Amanda Wingfield in a 1973 TV movie. He congratulated Edelstein on the production and said he really liked it.
This production began at New Haven's Long Wharf in April 2009 with Ivey, Darragh and Keira Keeley and played through early June. "In this reincarnation," says Darragh, "we've taken it further into being Tennessee. Up there, we just had three weeks of rehearsal. This time, I had a lot of time to let it marinate and work on it and read all about Tennessee, work on his voice. Tennessee hated his voice. He got made fun of in St. Louis, having that Mississippi accent. When he arrived in New Orleans, he said, 'Here, surely, is the place for me, if any place is on this funny old earth.'"
— Harry Haun