PLAYBILL PICKS: Tennessee Williams' Five Most Memorable Divas

By Robert Simonson
18 Apr 2012

Judith Ivey (right) with Keira Keeley in the Roundabout production of The Glass Menagerie.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Amanda Wingfield, The Glass Menagerie.

Amanda Wingfield, the manipulative but protective matriarch of the unfortunate, fractured St. Louis family in The Glass Menagerie, certainly didn't get the life she wanted. A one-time sought-after Southern belle, her traveling-salesman husband decamped, leaving her to fend for herself and her two children — the daydreaming Tom and the "crippled" Laura. Determined to pin a happy ending on her sorry circumstances, all the while keeping up appearances, she schemes and scrapes with a studied genteel smile.

The Texas-born Judith Ivey recently delivered an acclaimed interpretation of Amanda for the Roundabout Theatre Company in 2010. She remembered that, when she told people of her new assignment, they would say "you're going to play the beautiful monster."

"She's perceived that way when you don't look for all the depth, all the imagination," said Ivey. As with Blanche, the key to getting Amanda right is in the humor, in Ivey's estimation. "Williams is a classic now, so those characters can become stereotypes. I've seen a lot of Amandas, and the ones I liked showed her humor. Amanda loves her children; she doesn't hate them. It's not all narcissistic indulgence."

"I found Glass Menagerie terribly funny," said Knight, who played the part at the McCarter. "Tennessee felt that way. He said when people did it too serious, it didn't work."

Mann, who has staged Menagerie twice (including the production that starred Knight), is inclined to judge the demanding Amanda less harshly than her son Tom, and some theatregoers, do. "Amanda is so darling as a mother," she said. "She flutters around her children and cares so deeply. Her mad need is to make things right — she's funny because of that."

Speaking more broadly about Williams' females, Hecht said, "Everybody has an opinion about what Williams is after and what these women represent. There's not one simple truth you're after; it's a deeply human character. There's not one way to play it. It's more a question of how we find abandonment. All these characters are driven to this point where they have no reins on their life."

Read about the original 1945 Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie in the Playbill Vault, the most comprehensive Broadway database on the internet.