"To Begin With, I Turn Back Time": A Look at the History of The Glass Menagerie

By Carey Purcell
May 8, 2014

Playbill.com looks at the history of Tennessee Williams' famed memory play The Glass Menagerie, which was revived on Broadway this past season, earning seven Tony nominations, the first time the play has ever been recognized by the Tony Awards.



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In the opening scene of The Glass Menagerie, Tom Wingfield mentions "the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for." While Wingfield is referring to the long-awaited Gentleman Caller his family has been longing for, the play itself has finally achieved a long-delayed accomplishment of its own, earning its very first Tony Award nominations.

It may be surprising to some that Tennessee Williams' memory play — one of his most well-known works — has never before been nominated for a Tony Award. The autobiographical story of a struggling family, The Glass Menagerie premiered in Chicago in 1944, where it was championed by several midwest critics. It then moved to Broadway, where it opened in 1945, starring Laurette Taylor as Amanda, Eddie Dowling as Tom, Julie Haydon as Laura and Anthony Ross as The Gentleman Caller, Jim.

Taylor's performance as the dominating matriarch Amanda has been widely acclaimed for decades and became the subject of theatre lore — the New York Times said of her performance, "Miss Taylor's picture of a blowsy, impoverished woman who is living on memories of a flower-scented Southern past is completely perfect. It combines qualities of humor and human understanding" — and the production was honored with the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play in 1945. But The Glass Menagerie's Broadway bow did not receive any Tony Awards because it opened two years before the awards were created.

The play's success elevated Williams from obscurity to fame; the Times said, "Mr. Williams has a real ear for faintly sardonic dialogue, unexpected phrases and an affection for his characters... The Glass Menagerie, like spring, is a pleasure to have in the neighborhood." A Streetcar Named Desire soon followed, and between 1948-59 seven of Williams' plays had been produced on Broadway.

Cherry Jones and Celia Keenan-Bolger
Photo by Michael J. Lutch
The Glass Menagerie has been revived frequently; subsequent productions were mounted in 1965, 1975, 1983, 1994 and 2005, with the likes of Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris and Jessica Lange playing Amanda Wingfield, and Christian Slater, Željko Ivanek and Bruce Davison playing the poetic son Tom. None of the productions garnered any nominations from Tony voters.

The 2013 revival, directed by John Tiffany, with movement direction by Steven Hoggett, transferred to Broadway from the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA. The cast featured Tony Award winner Cherry Jones as Amanda, Zachary Quinto in his Broadway debut as Tom, Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura and Brian J. Smith as The Gentleman Caller.

Read Playbill.com's Brief Encounter with Cherry Jones here, and read Celia Keenan-Bolger's interview, where she discusses playing the frail, shy Laura, here

The production presented a new physical interpretation of the set that featured dream-like movement in the scenes and replaced the cramped apartment set with platforms that were surrounded by pools of dark liquid. The Glass Menagerie received positive reviews, with many noting the strong performances of the ensemble as well as the inventive new staging.

Read critics' reviews of The Glass Menagerie here

The production received seven Tony nominations: Best Revival, Best Actress (Jones), Best Featured Actress (Keenan-Bolger), Best Featured Actor (Smith), Best Direction (Tiffany), Best Lighting Design (Natasha Katz) and Best Scenic Design (Bob Crowley).

It looks like Tennessee Williams has found that "long-delayed but always expected something" at  last.