Tag Archives: plays

The Pittsburgh Cycle

The Pittsburgh Cycle, also known as the American Century Cycle, is August Wilson’s magnum opus, a series of ten plays that charts the African American experience throughout the twentieth century. “Put them all together,” Wilson once said, “and you have a history.” All of the plays are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District except for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which is set in Chicago. 

Wilson didn’t actually plan to write a 10-play cycle. “I didn’t start out with a grand idea. I wrote a play called Jitney set in ’77 and a[n unpublished and unperformed] play called Fullerton Street that I set in ’41,” he told author and teacher Sandra Shannon. “Then I wrote Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which I set in ’27, and it was after I did that I said, ‘I’ve written three plays in three different decades, so why don’t I just continue doing that?’”  (Fassler)

Characters in the plays often appear at different stages of their lives, with the offspring of previous characters cropping up in later plays. The figure of Aunt Ester features most often in the cycle. Other recurring elements include the use of music and the presence of an apparently mentally-impaired character; examples include Gabriel in Fences and Hedley in Seven Guitars.

Gem of the Ocean
Nominee, Tony Award, 2005

Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904 in the Pittsburgh home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old former slave and renowned cleanser of souls. A young man from Alabama visits her for help in absolving the guilt and shame he carries from a crime he’s committed, and she takes him on a journey of self-discovery to the City of Bones.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Nominee, Tony Award, 1988

Set in a Pittsburgh boardinghouse, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone tells the story of owners Seth and Bertha Holly and the makeshift family of migrants who pass through during the Great Migration of the 1910s.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at Yale Repertory Theatre. William B. Carter, 1986. Courtesy of Yale Repertory Theatre.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Nominee, Tony Award, 1985

Set in 1927. Legendary blues singer Ma Rainey and her band players convene in a Chicago studio to record a new album. As their conversation unfolds, their bantering, storytelling and arguing raise questions of race, art and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is being released by Netflix in December, starring Viola Davis as Ma Rainey and Chadwick Boseman, in his last performance, as the young jazz musician Levee.

The Piano Lesson
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1990
Nominee, Tony Award, 1990

The Piano Lesson is set in 1936 Pittsburgh during the aftermath of the Great Depression. The play deals with themes of family legacy. Brother and sister Boy Willie and Berniece Charles clash over whether or not they should sell an ancient piano that was exchanged for their great-grandfather’s wife and son in the days of slavery. The Piano Lesson was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in 1995, the first of Wilson’s plays to be filmed for a large audience.

Seven Guitars
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Nominee, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1995
Nominee, Tony Award, 1996

A blues singer just released from prison is asked to sign a record deal after a song he recorded months before becomes an unexpected hit in 1948. He is ready to right the past year’s wrongs and return to Chicago with a new understanding of what’s important in his life. Unfortunately his means of righting wrongs are inherently flawed.

Jean Hyppolite as Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton is confronted by Stephon Duncan’s Louise in M Ensemble’s “Seven Guitars.”
A 2018 production of Seven Guitars by Miami’s M Ensemble Theatre

Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1987
Winner, Tony Award, 1987

Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson, a restless trash-collector and former baseball athlete. Troy has gone through life in an America where to be proud and black is to face pressures that could crush a man, body and soul. But the 1950s are yielding to the new spirit of liberation in the 1960s, a spirit that is changing the world Troy has learned to deal with the only way he can, a spirit that is making him a stranger, angry and afraid, in a world he never knew and to a wife and son he understands less and less.

Mary Alice, James Earl Jones and Courtney Vance in Fences at Yale Repertory Theatre. William B. Carter, 1985. Courtesy of Yale Repertory Theatre

Two Trains Running
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle
Nominee, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1992
Nominee, Tony Award, 1992

Two Trains Running is set in 1969. It tells the story of a local diner owner who fights to stay open as a municipal project encroaches on his establishment. His regulars must deal with racial inequality and the turbulent, changing times of the Civil Rights movement.

Production of Two Trains Running at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle

Set in 1977 in a worn-down gypsy cab station, Jitney tells the story of men hustling to make a living driving jitneys — unofficial and unlicensed taxi cabs — because official cabs will not accept jobs in the Hill District, and what the company and its drivers must consider when the building housing the station is slated for destruction. Jitney is the only one of Wilson’s plays not to have been produced on Broadway during Wilson’s life, although it had been performed off-Broadway and overseas. It finally made its Broadway debut in 2017.

Jitney at True Colors Theatre, Atlanta 2010

King Hedley II
Nominee, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 2000

Nominee, Tony Award, 2001

One of Wilson’s darkest plays, King Hedley II tells the story of an ex-convict trying to rebuild his life by selling stolen refrigerators so that he can save enough money to buy a video store during the trickle-down economic era of the 1980s and a decaying Hill District. Many of the characters have connections to the characters in Wilson’s 1940s-era play Seven Guitars, showing “how the shadows of the past can reach into the present.” (Samuel French playscript Overview)

Radio Golf
Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle

Radio Golf is set in 1997 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Aunt Ester returns in this story of a charming, powerful African-American politician who is running for the highest office of his career with the support of his savvy wife. As he steps into political prominence, his plans to redevelop the Hill District collide with his past.



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August Wilson Introduction

Perhaps the most successful African-American playwright in American history, August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel on April 27, 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents were Daisy Wilson, who cared for August and his four siblings alongside her work as a cleaning woman, and Frederick Kittel, a German immigrant and baker.

Young August Kittel went to parochial school near his Hill District home on Bedford Avenue until his parents’ divorce. He, his mother, and his siblings moved from their historically black community to the Oakland neighborhood, which was primarily white. The constant bigotry of classmates led him to change high schools three times by the time he was fifteen, when he withdrew from formal school and began educating himself independently at Pittsburgh’s famed Carnegie Library. In 1962, at age 17, he enlisted in the Army but left after a year of service. After his father’s death in 1965, he took the name August Wilson to honor his mother.

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library c. 1935

The 60s launched Wilson’s writing career. Although he originally planned to work as a poet, by the late 1960s he had formed, with a group of friends, the Centre Avenue Poets Theater Workshop. In 1968, he met collaborator Rob Penny through the CAPTW, and they co-founded the Black Horizon Theater in the Hill District, a community-based Black Nationalist theater company. Penny worked as the playwright while Wilson directed the productions, which were designed to raise awareness of the African-American experience.

Wilson relocated to Minneapolis in 1978, where he began serious work on his own plays. His first play, Jitney, was completed in 1979. Over the next few years, Wilson submitted both Jitney and his second play Fullerton Street to the renowned Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwright’s Conference without success, but his third attempt, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was selected in 1982. Through the Conference, Wilson was introduced to the artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre, Lloyd Richards, who nurtured trailblazing playwright Lorraine Hansberry, the author of A Raisin in the Sun and the first African-American to have a play produced on Broadway. Richards helped shepherd the development of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and ended up directing Wilson’s first six plays on Broadway, including the 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences. Wilson earned his second Pulitzer in 1990 for The Piano Lesson.

From a piano hand-carved by slaves to prison work songs to blues anthems, music sings throughout Wilson’s plays. He said hearing Bessie Smith’s “Nobody in Town Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine” the first time “was a defining moment: it made him recognize the poetry in the everyday language of black America and gave him the inspiration and freedom to use that language in his own writing.” (Greene Space) He often explained that he got his education from the four B’s: the blues, the art of painter Romare Bearden and the writing of poet Amiri Baraka and writer/poet Jorge Luis Borges. “The foundation of my playwriting is poetry,” he once said, and that influence is obvious from the cadence and power of his dialogue. (Greene Space)

After a decade in Minneapolis, Wilson moved to Seattle in 1990 and continued work on the ten-play series that would become known as The American Century Cycle or The Pittsburgh Cycle. The plays explore the challenges faced by African-Americans in each decade of the 20th century, “beginning with the complex narrative of freedom at the turn of the century and ending with the assimilation and sense of alienation of the 1990s.” (The Greene Space)

A passionate advocate for black representation in the theatre, Wilson explained, “I think my plays offer [white Americans] a different way to look at Black Americans. For instance, in Fences they see a garbageman, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbageman every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this Black garbageman’s life is affected by the same things—love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with Black people in their lives.” He stated that he didn’t write for black or white audiences, but about the black experience, because “…contained within that experience, because it is a human experience,” he said, “are all universalities.” This 1998 interview with Charlie Rose preceded a five-day symposium at Dartmouth University and reveals much of Wilson’s thinking on the topics of race and culture.

The day after Wilson’s 60th birthday in April of 2005, the last play of the Pittsburgh Cycle, Radio Golf, made its debut at the Yale Repertory Theatre. In August of that same year, Wilson revealed his diagnosis of terminal liver cancer. Wilson died October 2, 2005. Peter Marks of The Washington Post wrote that Wilson did not “simply leave a hole in the American theater, but a huge yawning wound, one that will have to wait to be stitched closed by some expansive, poetic dramatist yet to emerge.” (Greene Space)

Actor-director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who performed in many Wilson plays and won a 1996 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance as Canewell in Seven Guitars, said, “August Wilson left such a tremendous body of work for us. He wanted to make sure that our culture did not become history without some life and love and breath in it. He wanted a heartbeat in the stories that we told.” (Fassler)

On October 16, two weeks after Wilson’s death, the owners of the Virginia Theatre on East 52nd street renamed the theatre after him. The August Wilson Theatre is the first Broadway venue to be named for an African-American. In 2006, the African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh officially became the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.



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Esperanza Onstage

In 2009, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago produced a stage version of The House on Mango Street as part of its Steppenwolf for Young Adults series. Written by Tanya Saracho, the play dramatizes many of the vignettes of the novel, with music and performances bringing the characters and neighborhood to life. The production was directed by Hallie Gordon and featured Belinda Cervantes, Gina Cornejo, Sandra Delgado, Liza Fernandez, Ricardo Gutierrez, Christina Nieves, Tony Sancho and Mari Stratton. Here are three scenes from the production, taken from “Our Good Day,” “The Family of Little Feet,” and “My Name.”

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Shakespeare’s Tragedies

Everybody dies.


P.S. They forgot one. In Act V, Scene 2 of Othello, Gratiano says about Desdemona, “I am glad thy father’s dead/Thy match was mortal to him, and pure grief/Shore his old thread in twain,” which suggests that, like Lady Montague, Brabantio died of a broken heart. This brings the death toll of Othello to five.

Concept by Cam Magee, design by Caitlin S. Griffin (who might possibly be this Caitlin Griffin, who is Education Programs Assistant for the Folger Shakespeare Library).

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Key Scenes in Othello

othello's lamentation

Consider/review these scenes as you complete your Major Works Data Sheet for Othello and prepare for the seminar:
Act I, Scene 3 – Othello and Desdemona’s stories of their love; The Duke’s and Brabantio’s warnings to Othello; Iago’s advice to Roderigo; Iago’s final speech
Act II, Scene 1 – Iago, Emilia, and Desdemona speaking of men and women; Iago’s speeches regarding his developing plan of revenge
Act II, Scene 3 – Cassio’s downfall and Iago’s advice to Cassio
Act III, Scene 3 – Iago plants and waters the seed of jealousy
Act III, Scene 4 – Othello confronts Desdemona about the handkerchief
Act IV, Scene 1 – Iago “proves” Cassio’s betrayal; Othello and Iago make plans
Act IV, Scene 3 – Desdemona and Emilia talk of men and women
Act V, Scene 1 – Iago puts his final plan into action
Act V, Scene 2 – Othello carries through with his part of the bargain; Iago’s plot is revealed and tragedy befalls the cast

Othello’s Lamentation by William Salter, 1857, from the Folger Library Collection


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Many Faces of Othello


On November 1, 1604, Master of Revels Edmund Tilney notes that a play titled The Moor of Venice was performed at Whitehall Palace for King James I. In the four hundred-plus years since, Othello has become one of the best-known and regarded of Shakespeare’s plays. It has also presented a number of questions regarding its central character, Othello the Moor.

During the Elizabethan era, the word “Moor” could have meant several things. Scholar Ben Arogundade notes that “[‘Moor’] was first used to describe the natives of Mauretania — the region of North Africa which today corresponds to Morocco and Algeria. It was later applied to people of Berber and Arab origin, who conquered and ruled the Iberian Peninsula — the area now known as Spain and Portugal — for nearly eight centuries. From the Middle Ages onwards the Moors were commonly regarded as black Africans, and the word was used alongside the terms ‘negro,’ ‘Ethiopian’ and ‘Blackamoor’ as a racial identifier.

othello arabAt the time of performance, London audiences would have been familiar with a man named Abd al-Wahid bin Masoud bin Muhammad al-Annuri, who arrived in 1600 as an ambassador of the Sa’adian ruler of Morocco, Mulay Ahmed al-Mansur. England’s various alliances with the countries of North Africa familiarized the Elizabethan world with their traditions. Islamic and Muslim characters appeared in plays as early as Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great in 1587, and in more than sixty plays from the next ten years, characters described with words like “Moors,” “Saracens,” “Turks,” and “Persians” appeared, including several of Shakespeare’s own. So it is not without historical or literary precedent that some critics believe that the character of Othello is intended to be a North African man of Arab descent.

The far more common interpretation, however, is for Othello to be viewed as a sub-Saharan African with black features. It is this portrayal that is most commonly found in modern productions of the play. From Shakespeare’s time until the early 1800s, this meant that the actor tackling the role would have played it in blackface makeup.

It wasn’t until 1826 that Othello was finally played by a black performer: American actor Ira Aldridge. Aldridge emigrated to London at age 17 to pursue his acting career. But his groundbreaking performance wasn’t without criticism. The 1933 performance in Covent Garden was criticized by the paper The Anthenaeum because of the startling new reality of Ellen Tree, the white actress playing Desdemona, being manhandled by Aldridge. And although Aldridge became quite famous in London and abroad, it took nearly a hundred years before another black actor became attached to the role. According to writer Samantha Ellis, “In 1825, the pro-slavery lobby had closed [Aldridge’s] production and the Times‘s critic had written: ‘Owing to the shape of his lips it is utterly impossible for him to pronounce English.’ No wonder it took almost a century for another black actor to brave the part.”

robesonPerhaps the best-known Othello in the United States is the renowned actor Paul Robeson. The son of an escaped slave, Robeson had built an international reputation not only from his role in the musical Show Boat, but as an athlete and an attorney. Robeson had a commanding physical presence that suited the role perfectly, but his casting against the young British actress Peggy Ashcroft in 1930 was not without controversy. Technical issues like poor staging and difficult acoustics made performing difficult. But no one argued with the power of Robeson’s performance. Ivor Brown, the critic for The Observer, described Robeson as “… an oak…a superb giant of the woods for the great hurricane of tragedy to whisper through, then rage upon, then break.” Audiences at the premiere gave Robeson twenty curtain calls. But, given the societal segregation of the time, Robeson had detractors as well who criticized everything from his interpretation of the role to how he pronounced the words of Shakespeare’s text. Samantha Ellis writes:

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, WA Darlington felt that Robeson was a “really memorable” Othello precisely because he was black: “By reason of his race Mr Robeson is able to surmount the difficulties which English actors generally find in the part.” While other Othellos had seemed illogically jealous, Robeson’s jealousy seemed real, because: “Mr Robeson…comes of a race whose characteristic is to keep control of its passions only to a point, and after that point to throw control to the winds.” It was a “fine” performance and “the much-debated question whether Shakespeare meant Othello to be a negro or an Arab can be left to the professors.” Baughan, in contrast, stated baldly: “I agree with Coleridge that Othello must not be conceived as a negro, but as a high and chivalrous Moorish chief.”

Only the Express‘s critic seemed to think the casting of a black actor was a historic event. He reported overhearing people saying “Why should a black actor be allowed to kiss a white actress?” and his review, subtitled “Coloured Audience in the Stalls,” concluded that Robeson had “triumphed as a negro Moor, black, swarthy, muscular, a real man of deep colour.”

Robeson himself enjoyed playing Othello, and it became his signature role for the remainder of his career. As Ellis notes, “For Robeson, it was more than just a part: it was, as he once said, ‘killing two birds with one stone. I’m acting and I’m talking for the negroes in the way only Shakespeare can.'”

olivier smithDespite the positive reception of an African-American actor in the role, the Oscar-nominated 1965 production (the highest number for a Shakespeare film in history) starring Sir Laurence Olivier and a very young Dame Maggie Smith as Desdemona reverted to type: The famous English actor played the role in makeup. This was the first cinematic Othello to be shot using color film, and Oliver was as meticulous about that as he was about developing the physical character through a deep voice and a special walk. He stated in an interview with Life magazine in 1964 that, “The whole [makeup] will be in the lips and the colour. I’ve been looking at Negroes lips every time I see them on the train or anywhere, and actually, their lips seems black or blueberry-coloured, really, rather than red. But of course the variations are enormous. I’ll just use a little tiny touch of lake and a lot more brown and a little mauve.”

But as well-received as the production was by the Oscar crowd, its release during the height of the Civil Rights Movement dampened its reception with audiences. Arongundade remarks that “…[Olivier’s] blackface portrayal troubled American critics when the film opened there in 1966…sensitivities about black identity were at their height, and many saw Olivier’s chosen aesthetic as outdated.”

othello-james-earl-jonesPerhaps the pushback against the Olivier production opened the door for the now generally-accepted casting of an African-American actor in the role. Famous Othellos of the last several decades include theater luminaries like James Earl Jones, Oscar-nominated actor Laurence Fishburne in a stellar 1995 production starring Kenneth Branagh as Iago and French actress Irene Jacob as Desdemona, and young actor Mekhi Phifer in “O,” a contemporary version that transforms the military conflict into a basketball rivalry set in a high school. Other famous actors who have played Othello include Orson Welles, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Eamonn Walker in a 2001 TV movie co-starring Christopher Eccleston (best known as the ninth Doctor Who) as Iago, which transplants the action from Venice and Cyprus to a London police station.
othello reverse

Modern theater companies wishing to explore the themes of Othello in new ways have explored variant casting. A 1997 production of the play in Baltimore starred Patrick Stewart as Othello, the lone white actor in a racially-flipped cast in which every other actor was African-American. Stewart, pictured here with Patrice Johnson as Desdemona, explained, “One of my hopes for this production is that it will continue to say what a conventional production of Othello would say about racism and prejudice… To replace the black outsider with a white man in a black society will, I hope, encourage a much broader view of the fundamentals of racism.” A review in the Baltimore Sun said, “It is a tribute to the concept as well as Stewart’s performance that the initial awkwardness falls away as early as his second scene…Stewart, who possesses a calm assuredness at the start of the play, lets the theater’s predominantly white audience experience how completely foreign Othello must have felt in a society where he was viewed as the outsider.”

wolff othelloSpeaking of foreign: A German production at the Deutsches Theatre in 2001 pushed the boundaries of the character by not only casting a white actor as Othello, but a female one. This more avant-garde production starring actress Susanne Wolff sees Wolff utter her lines in varying costumes progressing from a simple black-and-white shirt and pants ensemble to—believe it or not—a gorilla suit intended to show Othello’s shift from loving partner to a more animalistic creature bent on vengeance. Blogger/reviewer Andrew Haydon says about the production, “Okay, there are two headlines to choose from here: 1) I’ve just seen the best production of Othello I’ve ever seen. 2) I’ve just seen a production of Othello in which Othello is played by a white woman in a gorilla costume. My job, then, is to explain how (2) manages to be (1).”

Ben Arungodade, “What Was Othello’s Race?” and “The 18 Most Memorable Othello Actors Performances
Baltimore Sun review of Sir Patrick Stewart Othello
Jerry Brotton, “Is This the Real Model for Othello?
Samantha Ellis, “Paul Robeson in Othello, Savoy Theatre, 1930
Emily Anne Gibson, “The Face of Othello
Andrew Haydon, “Othello – Deutsches Theatre

Othello Relating His Adventures to Desdemona by Carl Ludwig Friedrich Becker, 1880.

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Thug Notes: The Glass Menagerie

Life gets tough when your mama wants you to lead it the way she thinks you should. Salty language and adult themes ahead. Proceed with caution.

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The Glass Menagerie Interview


Since its debut in 1945, The Glass Menagerie has been revived on Broadway seven times, in 1965, 1975, 1983, 1994, 2005, 2013, and most recently in 2017. PBS commentator Charlie Rose featured the 2013 revival cast of The Glass Menagerie on his October 4, 2013 show, including actors Cherry Jones (Amanda), Zachary Quinto (Tom), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Laura), and Brian J. Smith (Jim). The production received a total of seven 2014 Tony Award nominations for the run, including Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (Jones), Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Smith), Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Keenan-Bolger), Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Lighting Design of a Play (winner), and Best Direction of a Play. The production was also nominated for three Drama Desk Awards.

In the interview, the actors discuss Williams’ text, their approach to the roles, and the enduring appeal of The Glass Menagerie in American theater.

The most recent revival premiered in March, 2017, starring Sally Field as Amanda, Joe Mantello as Tom, and Finn Wittrock as Jim. The stripped-down production also featured actress Madison Ferris, who has muscular dystrophy, as Laura, prompting a wider discussion of disability in the theater. In the interview below, Sally Field discusses the role of Amanda and its importance in American theater history.

Madison Ferris was featured in a March 23 article in People magazine discussing the new production of The Glass Menagerie and how she pursues her ambitions despite the challenges her MS creates for her. Read the article, which includes a video interview, here.

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The Glass Menagerie in Performance

Since its debut in 1944, The Glass Menagerie has been in nearly constant production. From Broadway to the high school stage, Williams’ play has long been a favorite choice for actors, directors, and audiences alike.

This clip from the 1973 film features the argument concluding Scene Three, starring Katharine Hepburn as Amanda and Sam Waterson as Tom. The entire film may be viewed online.

This clip from the 1987 film version features John Malkovich as Tom and Joanne Woodward as Amanda. The Tom/Amanda argument from Scene Three begins at 3:35. This film was directed by Woodward’s husband, Paul Newman. The entire film may be viewed online.


The “gentleman caller” scene from the 1987 film, with Karen Allen as Laura and James Naughton as Jim.


The 2013 Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie was nominated for seven Tony Awards. This feature article from the New York Times discusses the revival and the choices its designers made to re-launch the play for our contemporary audience. This is a selection of clips from the play shown during the Tony Awards broadcast. The production starred Cherry Jones as Amanda, Zachary Quinto as Tom, Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura, and Brian J. Smith as Jim.

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World Café Discussion: The Glass Menagerie


The following questions were considered during the World Café discussion in class today. Selected responses are recorded below.

Is Amanda a good mother?

  • YES –> good intentions toward her children, works to support the family, invests time and money into finding Laura a husband, stays with her children despite trouble, genuinely thinks her way is best, stays (unlike their father), tries to help her children advance, won’t allow “crippled” as a descriptor for Laura, comforts Laura at the end
  • NO –> very pushy, doesn’t understand Tom’s dreams because she’s worried about Laura and her own situation, overcontrolling, lost in a dream world of the past, actions reflect her desires rather than children’s needs/wishes, superficial, unkind to Tom because he reminds her of her husband, seems more focused on her children’s success than happiness

The Glass Menagerie is a play about _____ because _____.

  • Selfish desires – Tom’s and father’s choice to leave, Amanda’s controlling nature
  • Regret – Tom regrets leaving Laura
  • Misunderstanding – Amanda doesn’t understand either of her children’s wishes
  • Appearance vs. Reality – setting of apartment, Laura hiding her disability,
  • Deception – Tom’s explanation about where he’s going and why, playing happy family for Jim when they’re not, Laura shrugging off the broken unicorn
  • Love and betrayal – characters lying to protect other characters’ feelings, Laura hiding what she’s been doing instead of going to school
  • Family – Amanda expecting Tom to be a better man than his father
  • Dreams – character’s dreams unspoken to each other, expectations for other characters
  • Finding yourself – Tom rejecting the warehouse to write, Amanda clinging to the Southern belle she used to be, Laura retreating into her world of glass
  • Illusion – Amanda lives in the past, Laura lives in her glass world, Tom wants to escape to adventure
  • Abandonment – Jim abandons Laura (hope), the father abandons the family, Tom abandons Amanda and Laura

Who is the most important character in the play? Explain.

  • Amanda – she is the most present of all the characters (appears in most of the scenes), she drives the play and determines the actions of the other characters, she acts as the rock/glue for the family, she presses her desires on her children, she sets the whole play in motion, themes relate back to her relationship with everyone else
  • Tom – play is told from his perspective, all conflicts relate back to him, he carries the emotions from the events, when his character leaves the family ceases to exist, focal character, his choice to bring Jim invites the play’s climax, he ends the action on his terms
  • Laura – the main action of the play concerns plans for her future, the other characters’ focus in on Laura, the lighting asks the audience to pay attention to her, she has the most emotional development of the characters,
  • the father – he’s the reason for their current situation, characters’ choices are viewed in comparison to his, he’s always watching (figuratively) the fallout his leaving created, his absence is the catalyst for both Amanda’s and Tom’s characters

Name and discuss the significance of an important symbol in the play.

  • glass menagerie – Laura’s fragility and her hopes/dreams
  • father’s picture – constant reminder of his abandonment, foreshadowing of what Tom will become,
  • Victrola – Laura’s unwillingness to move and how her life is painfully repetitive
  • typewriter – both Tom’s ambitions and Laura’s failed attempts at success,
  • merchant marine uniform – Tom’s desire for adventure and foreshadowing of his eventual choice to leave
  • blue roses – Laura’s peculiarity and attractiveness,
  • fire escape – escaping the family to pursue dreams, when called the “terrace” it romanticizes their reality
  • movies – Tom’s escape, further heightening of illusion vs. reality theme
  • fancy lamp – illusion that the family is more than it appears to be (happy and comfortable)
  • glass unicorn – Laura’s uniqueness, when its horn is broken it shows Laura trying to fit in and be accepted, broken relationship with Jim, her nervousness (when it breaks, she feels more open)
  • Amanda’s dress – her clinging to the past, compares her wealthy past to her poorer present
  • Jim – the “very ordinary young man” who contrasts greatly with the flawed family

How does the setting function to reveal character and provide insight on theme?

  • Gloomy apartment – contributes to bleak and depressing tone, current lifestyle contrasts with the past and reinforces idea of “memory play”
  • Living room – one set highlights Laura’s isolation from the world, same set throughout play heightens sense of characters being trapped in their circumstances
  • New furnishings – reveals how things aren’t usually as they seem (deception; appearance vs. reality), illusion that they are more than they appear to be, shows Amanda’s wish to be like she was–genteel, Southern, and rich–than what she is
  • Fire escape – Tom escaping the family
  • St. Louis/South – reinforces traditional roles for women (security, marriage), enhances Amanda’s mentality that Tom and Laura do not share,
  • Open windows – lets in music and other pleasures not available to the people in the apartment, reinforces Tom’s wish to escape

Do the images on the screen enhance or detract from the play? Explain.

  • ENHANCES –> contributes to the idea of a “memory play” because they are dreamlike like memories, adds to visualization, helps with background knowledge not presented through setting and text, provides insight into what characters are thinking, provides symbolic meaning, reflects how things are remembered, provides comic relief, clarifies possible ambiguities in the dialogue, sets the mood for scenes, adds diversity and interest in the confined setting
  • DETRACTS –> pulls attention from what the actors are doing, takes away element of suspense, can be unnecessarily distracting, can dictate opinion of the audience

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