History of the Text
The Glass Menagerie’s Production History and Reception: According to The New York Times, The Glass Menagerie is considered “American theater’s most exquisite mea culpa.” Since its premiere in Chicago, the play has garnered praise for its depiction of a shattered family and has won numerous awards for its powerful and poetic language. One of Williams’s most recognizable works, The Glass Menagerie is still produced in theaters across the country.
- Chicago Premiere: Williams’s play premiered in Chicago in 1944. Though it was received poorly at first, the play garnered rave reviews from a few key critics who thought it demonstrated “courage . . . of true poetry.” This early praise launched the play from obscurity into the spotlight.
- Broadway Premiere: The Glass Menagerie opened in the Playhouse Theater on Broadway on March 31, 1945 and ran until August 3, 1946. Directed by Eddie Dowling and Margo Jones, the opening cast included Eddie Dowling as Tom Wingfield, Laurette Taylor as Amanda Wingfield, Julie Haydon as Laura Wingfield, and Anthony Ross as Jim O’Connor. The play opened two years prior to the creation of the Tony Awards, but it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play in 1945 and launched Williams’s career as a playwright. Between 1945 and 1959, A Streetcar Named Desire and six other Williams plays were produced on Broadway stages. With its 2014 and 2017 Broadway revivals, The Glass Menagerie went on to receive several Tony Award nominations and one win.
- Laurette Taylor’s Iconic Performance as Amanda Wingfield: In the New York Times review from March 31, 1945, art critic Lewis Nichols wrote that “Tennessee Williams’s simple play forms the framework for some of the finest acting to be seen in many a day. ‘Memorable’ is an overworked word, but that is the only one to describe Laurette Taylor’s performance . . . Miss Taylor’s picture of a blowsy, impoverished woman who is living on memories of a flower-scented Southern past is completely perfect.” Lauded for her performance as Amanda, Taylor’s performance set the standard for future actors tackling this part. Williams, in turn, went on to create a number of iconic female roles. In a tribute to Taylor published in The New York Times in December of 1949, Williams wrote, “I feel now—as I have always felt—that a whole career of writing for the theatre is rewarded enough by having created one good part for a great actress.”
Tennessee Williams’s Personal History: Tennessee Williams’s life was challenging, and led him to grapple with dark subject matter through the poetic expression of his plays.
- The Life of Tennessee Williams: Thomas Lanier Williams (1911–1983), later known as Tennessee, was born in Columbus, Mississippi, and brought up in St. Louis, Missouri. Williams demonstrated promise as a writer from an early age. Two of his plays were staged by the University of Missouri’s Dramatic Arts Club when he was a student there as part of their Dramatic Prize Plays Contest. At his father’s urging, Williams went on to work in a shoe factory. He was deeply unhappy and suffered a nervous breakdown at just 24 years old. From then on, he devoted himself to writing. In 1945, Williams won national and international acclaim with the Broadway premiere of The Glass Menagerie. Williams received myriad awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980. However, Williams fell out of favor later in his career. When Frank Merlo, Williams’s long-time romantic partner, died of lung cancer in 1963, Williams entered a deep depression, exacerbated by a history of drug and alcohol addiction. In 1983, Williams died from asphyxiation while trying to ingest barbiturates.
- Williams’s Family Background and Semi-Autobiographical Works: Many of Williams’s plays, including The Glass Menagerie , which he developed from his short story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass,” drew inspiration from his...
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