How much are we able to forgive others, and in turn, how much are we able to forgive ourselves? This February, the Northeastern Department of Theatre presents The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, one of the most famous and beloved plays of the 20th century.
During the twilight of the Great Depression, a faded Southern belle dreams of finding romance for her desperately shy daughter while her writer son longs for artistic freedom and escape. This autobiographical masterpiece by America’s greatest playwright poetically captures the allure of illusion, the danger of memory, and the timeless fragility of love. The production is directed by Scott Edmiston, Professor of the Practice and Chair, who is well known for his direction of works by Williams. The production runs from February 20th-25th in the Studio Theatre, located in the Curry Student Center.
Tennessee Williams is regarded by many as the greatest playwright in the history of American theatre. His dramas, including The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Rose Tattoo, Orpheus Descending, The Night of the Iguana, and Sweet Bird of Youth, are among the most acclaimed ever performed on Broadway. He often portrayed familial conflict with heightened intensity and poetic language. Coping with the emotional loss of his mentally ill sister, Williams honored her in his writing beginning with the 1943 short story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass.” He adapted it into what would become his first important play, The Glass Menagerie. It opened on Broadway in 1945, revolutionizing American theater and changing Williams’s life forever. While the height of his career was the late 1940s and 1950s, The Glass Menagerie has never left the repertoire. It has had seven Broadway revivals, most recently last year starring Sally Field and in 2014 starring Cherry Jones.
According to Professor Edmiston, “Because the play is autobiographical, it invites us to consider if we can ever understand or escape the forces that create and shape us. I’ve been talking with the cast about the play’s themes which explore forgiveness and acceptance — both of ourselves and our families. Williams also called it a plea for the gentle people.”
Of the rehearsal process, he adds: “This is an actor’s play, so most of our time is spent creating complex, interesting, funny, and heartbreaking characters. The characters are very sensitive and wounded, so the actors must be fearless in bringing a vulnerability and emotional truth to the roles.”
Scott Edmiston was named “one of Boston’s finest directors” by The Boston Globe and is the recipient of the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence for his artistic body of work. He has directed more than 60 productions for theatre and opera companies across New England. His 2017 production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf received the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production; his 2015 production of My Fair Lady earned him the Elliot Norton Award, the IRNE Award and the Arts Impulse Award. He also received Elliot Norton Awards for his direction of Casa Valentina, The History Boys, The Light in the Piazza, Molly Sweeney, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His interpretations of Willams’ play have been critically acclaimed. His production Five by Tenn, an original compilation of newly discovered Tennessee Williams plays, was honored with five Elliot Norton Awards including Outstanding Director. Previously he has directed The Importance of Being Earnest and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for Northeastern, where he joined the faculty in 2014.
In addition, the production has a design team featuring two guest designers: Scenic by Janie Howland and Sound by Dewey Dellay. Lighting Design is by Visiting Assistant Teaching Professor Oliver Wason and Costume Design is by Teaching Professor Frances McSherry.
“The Glass Menagerie is a memory play,” Edmiston said. “It’s poetic in tone and unrestricted by reality. We can allow theatrical and magical design moments to happen – anything and anywhere our imagination takes us. As Tom says, ‘I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.’”
Photo credits: Chelsea Ruscio