by Tennessee Williams
directed by Greg Hellems
February 4 – 21, 2016
Memories as fragile as glass are tossed into the air in Tennessee Williams’ first great masterpiece. Dreams meet reality and love becomes desperate in a shimmering drama of a family on the edge. Tom struggles in a modern day world while his mother holds tight to a fantasy of Southern gentility and his sister hides amongst the glistening crystalline creatures she collects. With an edge as sharp as broken glass, it’s a story that cuts deep into the longing of human hearts.
Jim and Enid Goubeaux
The Roberts Foundation
Anonymous Sponsor in Joyful Memory of Marsha Hanna
David and Dulie Greer
John and Tamara Clough
The narrator, Tom, introduces the play by saying, “The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” We so often romanticize the past, and often our vision of the past plasters over its rougher parts and sharp edges. Williams in his stage direction notes, “Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.” He is challenging us to consider how accurate our memory is of the events and people of our past. Among the many voices clamoring for attention in our modern society are those who state that they want “to go back.” The current political campaigns absorbing much of television and social media echo this sentiment, and also point to a related theme – the inability to accept any reality that isn’t our own. Our society has reached a level of discourse where we believe that our point of view history and events is the correct one and the only truth we can accept. The characters in The Glass Menagerie suffer from the same inability to empathize. They are so determined to promote their point of view that they can’t hear each other. Without empathy they can only exhibit selfishness and a lack of compassion for those they profess to love. For them and for us the lesson is, without understanding and compassion we must pay a penalty. The price for our selfishness is to live with everlasting regret and loss.
When I developed my concept for this production, I began with Tennessee Williams himself. Authors write about the events of their life, and Williams fictionalized his into The Glass Menagerie. If you know of his early years, that seems obvious but it truly illuminates the situation and characters. Director Elia Kazan said of Williams: “Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life.” In writing The Glass Menagerie, Williams sought to renegotiate the events and relationships of his early life in St. Louis during the Great Depression. So, I have surmised that just as Williams sought to purge himself of his guilt and regret, his doppelganger in the play, Tom Wingfield, must do the same. I have imagined that the theatre is Tom’s purgatory where he must make his nightly confession, to explain his actions and to justify his decision to abandon his Mother and his disabled sister. I also imagine that this confession is precipitated by the tragic death of Tom’s sister.
The play opens with Tom’s line, “I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But 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.” (Act I, Scene 1.) The illusions he presents are fragments of memory, edited to promote his vision of the past. But Tom is an amateur magician and his subconscious leaves fingerprints of truth behind. In a dream or a nightmare, familiar people and things have a will of their own and become unpredictable. The ghosts of Tom’s illusion respond with vitality and life, and won’t succumb to his conscious desire to direct events. Once Tom steps into his memory it is no longer under his control, and he must face the consequence of his decision.
We approached this production as if Tom needed vindication for his past actions. Therefore, the play is from his memory, however it is fragments of his memory. Some items he remembers in great detail, i.e. the fire escape. Other items are bold and over whelming in their appearance representing his never ending struggle with his over bearing mother. The design has very specific homages to each character. The large open fretwork portiere with its beautiful, but worn, blue velvet curtains represent Amanda, the heavy metal fire escape is Tom’s world and the fractured world where the action takes place is where Laura never leaves. Laura’s world is delicate, fragile and is shattered each time Tom is forced to relive his past.
by Mary McCarty
A psychologist analyzes the Wingfield family
Before Dr. Phil, before Jerry Springer – before the phrase “dysfunctional family” even entered the vernacular – there was The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams’ classic play doesn’t have the carnage or gore of Macbeth, it’s true. Instead there is the quiet carnage of families who can’t speak their hearts to each other.
You have the genteel but domineering mother, Amanda Wingfield, forever reminiscing about a glittering past strewn with “gentleman callers.” That way, she doesn’t have to face the ugly present in which she has been abandoned by her husband and forced to raise their children on her own. You have the preternaturally shy daughter, Laura, who knows she can never live up to her mother’s social aspirations; instead, she retreats into a world of her glass figurines and phonograph records. There’s the smart, sensitive son, Tom, who has his own escape hatch – the movies. He’s torn between his love and loyalty to his family and his desire to break free, to make his way in the world.
To channel Dr. Phil, “Can this family be saved?” We put the question to Washington Township psychologist Richard Bromberg, who answered with a resounding “Yes.”
Bromberg would begin by getting the family to sit down and simply talk to one another. “The family members seem very much into their own world and not able to talk to each other,” Bromberg said. “I would love for this family to sit down and really talk to each other, to hear what each other is about. Tom could talk about movies, Laura could talk about her glass figurines, and the mother could reminisce. They could talk about memorable events in their lives so they can love and appreciate each other more. Right now they are so disconnected from each other.”
That diagnosis is shared by actress Jen Joplin, who plays Amanda Wingfield in the current Human Race Theatre production. “They are so polarized and living in their own personal realities,” she said. “They’re just not able to communicate with each other properly.” Amanda Wingfield clearly loves her children, Joplin said, “but she is very much the star of her own show. She is always thinking about how people will think about her. It’s not malicious; it’s the way she was brought up. She wants to make sure the family follows the social rules, checks off all the boxes, the way proper young ladies would do.” But that polite, respectable world left her behind when her husband left her. “She is left holding the bag,” Joplin said. “And there’s a lot of pressure she puts on her children. It turns into unreasonable pressure.”
During the many weeks of rehearsal Joplin has spent a lot of time inside these characters’ psyches. She believes Laura might be affected by something more than extreme shyness or the limp that lingered after her bout with polio. “In today’s world, she might be diagnosed with autism,” Joplin said. “It’s really heartbreaking that she is pushed into being something she simply cannot be, no matter how hard you push.”
Even though it premiered in 1944, The Glass Menagerie still seems like a very contemporary tale. And perhaps the Wingfield family could have benefited from what many families would do in their situation today: therapy.
“Counseling might not change what they end up doing,” Bromberg said, “but it could teach them to enjoy each other rather than perpetuate this lonely existence. Their sadness could be turned into real joy.” After all, he said, “They love each other, but they can’t talk to each other. It’s the story of the modern family.”
Dr. Richard Bromberg, Ph.D. is among the most established and experienced psychotherapists in Ohio. A post-graduate of the Family Institute of Cincinnati, Dr. Bromberg held teaching positions at Wright State University, University of Dayton and Sinclair College and is co-creator/co-owner of Ohio Phobia Care. For more information on his skills and services, visit www.psychohio.com.
Joplins keep the drama on stage?
Many of America’s greatest playwrights hail from famously dysfunctional families. Eugene O’Neill’s masterwork, Long Day’s Journey into Night – to name one of countless examples – is largely autobiographical. Can an actor avoid the same curse? Can you come from a happy family yet tap into the deepest emotions so essential to playing the truly great roles?
Jen Joplin and her celebrated acting family are proof that you can. Joplin stars as the mother, Amanda Wingfield, in the current Human Race production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. She has graced The Human Race’s stage with her father, the great Joneal Joplin, in productions such as Proof and All My Sons. Father and daughter even were joined by another family member – Joplin’s brother, Jared – in a 2011 St. Louis production of Shipwrecked.
Acting families are often stereotyped as unstable, but, Joplin said, “We’re about as functional as we can be.” And that, she said, gives them a surprising amount of freedom as actors: “We have such a sense of safety with each other that we can get more brutal onstage. We’re very lucky in that regard.” Last spring, for instance, father and daughter co-starred as battling neighbors in Outside Mullingar at the Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. “It was very fun,” she said. “Since we have such a good relationship, there was no danger of opening up old wounds.”
Joplin does see some strengths in the Wingfield family. “Behind this catastrophic dysfunction there is such love and devotion among the family members,” she said. “But they are going 100 mph and following their hearts and not their heads. They aren’t using communication and reason with each other, but only listening to what the heart is telling them to do.” She said the play doesn’t have a clear good guy or bad guy: “They all have beautiful qualities. But you are never going to make it as a family if you don’t communicate with each other – not just talking, but listening. “And no one person could be the hero and save the day. It would take the three of them. They would have to fix it together.”
Most families aren’t as troubled as the Wingfields, Joplin said: “Most of us don’t have dysfunction to the same degree as these wonderful, heartbreaking families in great drama or comedy.” And yet every family has flaws or imperfections that enable audiences to connect with the characters onstage. “People tend to suspect they are alone in their dysfunction – that everyone else is sitting down to a Norman Rockwell portrait of a life,” Joplin said. “But that’s just not true.”
And when we come together for a night of great theater, we might just end up feeling less alone.
They’re the stuff of everything from lofty literature to base pop culture – everything from Hamlet to Judge Judy, with heady doses of reality TV. And it’s hard to find a major play that doesn’t deal with that theme. Consider such Pulitzer Prize-winning dramas as Fences, Next to Normal and August: Osage County.
Actress Jen Joplin – who plays Amanda Wingfield in The Human Race Theatre Company’s upcoming production of The Glass Menagerie – has a theory about this phenomenon: “We are captivated as an audience when characters are flawed and juicy. Not only do we get great entertainment – we usually walk away feeling better about our own families.”
That’s especially beneficial in a society where so many of us lack deep connections with one another, according to Washington Twp. psychologist Dr. Richard Bromberg. “Most people are secluded in their private lives,” he said. “We don’t really talk about family dynamics with our friends or other people and we have no real way of comparing what goes on in our own families, other than superficial matters. When we see a play, we can relate it to our own families on an intimate level. We can tell ourselves, ‘We do the same kinds of things; my aunt of my sister or my father does this.’”
Joplin believes that bond is particularly strong in The Glass Menagerie because of Tom Wingfield’s poignant narration of the play. We are inside his head; we become one with his memory. “It’s such a beautiful piece because of Tom’s direct connection with the audience,” she said. “Tom sets the audience free by telling them, ‘Take the lessons I learned and see if you can do better.’”
Even the most heinous family tales can hook audiences if the playwright brings it back to matters of the heart. “Look at Macbeth,” Joplin said. “It doesn’t get any more dysfunctional than Lady Macbeth and her counterpart. Yet even in that play there is love, however twisted. That’s what gets the audience, when you tie it in to love.”
Many patients come to Bromberg hoping for insights about the way they compare with other families. “I wish that I could show them videos of other families so they could see they’re not that unusual,” he said. He can’t do that, of course, but plays such as The Glass Menagerie can provide some of the same therapeutic function. “A lot of people need to be told that they’re not bizarre, they’re not abnormal,” Bromberg said. “A play can normalize things for them. It can make them more comfortable with their own families or even say, ‘Well, my family’s not that bad.’”
And the theater provides a safety net that isn’t there in our interactions with the people in our lives. “We can get very defensive when people ask us about our families, or tell us about theirs,” Bromberg said. “But when we go into the theater we are innocent and vulnerable and we are open to thinking things and feeling things in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise do. It’s a safe way of slipping into some very serious, very painful stuff.”
A night at the theater, in other words, can be very good therapy indeed.
According to Wright State University’s W. Stuart McDowell
The Glass Menagerie ranks near the top of the world’s greatest plays about dysfunctional families. Just ask Wright State University’s W. Stuart McDowell, who admits to a sentimental fondness for the play. He portrayed Tom Wingfield in high school – his first venture into acting.
“During my youth, I lived in movie theaters with a bucket of popcorn, so I could relate to Tom, and to the poignant, yearning lives in the play,” recalled McDowell, chair and artistic director of Wright State University’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures.
Why are troubled families like the Wingfields at the heart of the world’s greatest plays? “It goes to the core of the human experience,” McDowell said. “We come from a family and, God willing, we die with a family.”
What are the five greatest plays about dysfunctional families? It’s a bit of a trick question, since the topic is tackled by most theatrical masterpieces, from Oedipus to Medea to King Lear.
Nineteenth-century British writer Charles Lamb was famous for the children’s book “Tales from Shakespeare.” The children’s runaway favorite, McDowell said, was King Lear: “It’s a story all the kids can relate to. Cordelia, the one daughter who is loved the most, is despised by the others.”
Now Dayton theatergoers can treat themselves to back-to-back Tennessee Williams plays and decide for themselves which is the greater masterpiece. Wright State Theatre is presenting Streetcar January 28 – February 7, while The Glass Menagerie runs February 4 – 21. It’s yet another example of the beautiful symbiosis between Wright State Theatre and The Human Race Theatre Company. In addition to the over 100 WSU professors and students who have worked at The Human Race, in 2010, the two groups collaborated on the regional premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County and look forward to capturing that magic again in the near future.
America’s premier playwrights – Williams, O’Neill, Miller, August Wilson – share more than the theme of anguished families. McDowell said they also explore the theme of truth and illusion: “A dark secret is revealed in a sometimes shocking moment, and the family becomes unhinged, if it wasn’t already unhinged. And the family will either deal with it and conquer it, or it will conquer them.”
Either way, McDowell said, there’s a reason so many plays center around dysfunctional families: “It’s the stuff of truly great drama, and that’s why our greatest playwrights keep coming back to it.”
Mary McCarty is a longtime Dayton-area columnist and reporter who currently writes a Sunday column for The Dayton Daily News and teaches media writing at The University of Dayton.
Tennessee Williams (Playwright) was one of America’s most prolific and important playwrights. His prodigious output included The Glass Menagerie (NY Drama Critics Award 1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (New York Drama Critics Award, Pulitzer Prize 1947), Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (New York Drama Critics Award, Pulitzer Prize 1955), Orpheus Descending (1957), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), The Night of the Iguana (1961), The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963), Out Cry (1973), Vieux Carré (1977), A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur (1979), and Something Cloudy, Something Clear (1981). Not About Nightingales, which he wrote in 1947, was produced at the Royal National Theatre, London, and at the Alley Theatre, Houston, in 1998 with great success.
Greg Hellems (Director) is happy to be returning to The Loft to direct this American classic. His previous directing/choreography credits for HRTC include Band Geeks! and Best of Broadway in conjunction with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Also with DPO, Greg directed the staging of their production of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. His other regional credits include: Mountain Playhouse, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Hot Summer Nights, and assistant director to Tina Landau on her production of the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s Sycamore Tress at Signature Theatre in Washington, DC. He has also produced works for Kings Entertainment Company, Paramount Entertainment, American Entertainment Company, and Cedar Fair Corporation as a writer and director/choreographer of live entertainment for national and international theme parks, cruise lines, industrial clients, and USO tours. He is currently an associate professor at Wright State University, Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures. Recent productions at Wright State, both directing and/or choreography, include: Hot Mikado, Oklahoma!, Funny Girl, Death of a Salesman with Scott Stoney, and Anything Goes, among many others. In the past, Greg was a faculty member at Interlochen’s Arts Camp and Arts Festival, where he was director of the high school musical production. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and trained with Anne Bogart at the Saratoga International Theatre Institute. Greg is a member of the Musical Theatre Educators Association. “I extend my thanks and gratitude to Bill Bridges, and to the entire Human Race organization.”
Eric Barker (Scenic Designer) is currently designing and teaching at Earlham College. His recent design work includes: I and You for The Repertory of St. Louis; Armide and The Marriage of Figaro for Opera Columbus; The Elephant Man, The Final Table and My Name Is Asher Lev for CATCO; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Titus Andronicus for The Richmond Shakespeare Festival; In the Next Room and Twelfth Night at Earlham College; The Merry Wives of Windsor at Santa Cruz Shakespeare; Dames at Sea and The Rose Tattoo at UC Irvine; The Marriage of Figaro, The Merry Widow, Spring Awakening and Twelfth Night at Chapman University; Twelfth Night and Macbeth for Shakespeare Orange County. Upcoming design projects include Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike for CATCO; and Urinetown at Earlham. He received his MFA in Scenic Design from the University of California, Irvine and his BA from The Ohio State University. ericbarkerdesigns.com
Ayn Kaethchen Wood (Costume Designer) is as aesthetically promiscuous as they come. She is currently the Company Manager and Wardrobe Mistress of DCDC, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, an internationally renowned dance group nestled right here in Dayton, OH. She worked for several years as an Art Instructor at The Dayton Art Institute and the Rosewood Arts Center. She is the former Resident Teaching Artist of The Zoot Theatre Company, and has designed and built costumes, puppets, and masks for several local theatres including The Human Race Theatre Company, The Zoot Theatre Company, The Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse, The Kettering Children’s Theatre, and Town Hall Theatre. Ayn has a BFA in Theatre Performance from the Ohio University Honors Tutorial College, and can occasionally be seen tromping the boards for original works for stage and screen. Her truest passion is as a singer/songwriter, and she performs regularly on the Dayton scene with her band, Knock. Ayn’s best works are manifested in her beloved spawn, Zane and Joplin, to whom all endeavors are dedicated.
John Rensel (Lighting Designer) is the long-term Resident Lighting Designer for The Human Race Theatre Company, Muse Machine, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Pops series and Dayton Opera Association. He also serves as the long-time Technical Director for the Fraze Pavilion and has provided technical advance production coordination, lighting designs, automation programming and performance operation services for many artists and productions that have visited that venue. John also has a diverse dance lighting background, having provided lighting designs and technical production services for many years to The Dayton Ballet and Dayton Contemporary Dance Co. John’s national credits included a lighting design package for a National Touring Production of the Elton John/Tim Rice collaboration Aida. Some of his most recent local credits include all the designs for the 2014-15 Human Race Theatre Company’s season at The Loft Theatre; Muse Machine’s productions at the Victoria Theatre and the Dayton Opera Association’s 2014-15 season at the Schuster Center. John freely admits that he often loses his copies of the shows’ script.
Jay Brunner (Composer/Sound Designer) is a HRTC veteran, working on The Santaland Diaries; The Full Monty: The Broadway Musical; Family Shots; Mame; Play It by Heart; Fiddler on the Roof; Next to Normal; Avenue Q; and Red-Blooded, All-American Man as Sound Designer/Conductor/Co-Music Director/Guitarist/Arranger (take your pick). Jay has designed sound/incidental music for countless voiceovers, regional commercials, radio spots, training videos, collegiate theatre projects, marching bands, clubs, and organizations. He owns/runs a professional recording studio, Ardmore Underground with his wife, professional actor/voice-over artist Christine Brunner. Jay performs and records with local groups Uncle Daddy and the Family Secret, Adagio Blue and 21 Ghosts.
Kay Carver (Production Stage Manager) graduated from Wright State University’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures with a degree in Design/Technology and Stage Management. Her professional credits for The Human Race Theatre Company include Production Stage Manager for 18 productions on the past three Loft seasons, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Victoria Theatre, the 2013 Festival of New Musicals, MTW Dani Girl, Assistant Stage Manager for The Drowsy Chaperone and Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical and Production Assistant for Twelfth Night, The 39 Steps and Ordinary Days. She also served as the Production Stage Manager for the Wright State University/Dayton Philharmonic collaborative production of Bernstein’s Mass at the Schuster Center.
Scott Hunt (Tom) is a writer, director and performer currently residing in New York City. A native Daytonian and proud Resident Artist with The Human Race Theatre Company, he has performed in over a dozen productions spanning roughly two decades. Other performance credits include the Broadway and National Touring productions of Les Misérables (Marius) and Rent (Mark Cohen), along with numerous other roles in professional productions throughout the United States and across the globe. As a director, he has staged productions for Wright State University (Rent) and Short North Stage in Columbus, OH (Cabaret, Sunset Blvd.). As a writer he was proud to premiere The Great One, his new musical (with composer/lyricist James Higgins and co-writer JJ Tiemeyer).
Jennifer Joplin (Amanda) is always thrilled to come and play with The Human Race! HRTC audiences may have recently seen Ms. Joplin as Beverly in Miracle on South Division Street, Brooke in Other Desert Cities and Annette in God of Carnage. She had a blast the last time she worked with director Greg Hellems in the hit musical Band Geeks! as Principal Dixon. Originally from St. Louis, Jen has worked across the country as an actress, corporate trainer, voiceover artist and teacher. Some of her other favorite roles include Rosemary Muldoon in Outside Mullingar and Gwen Harper in Rapture, Blister, Burn at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati as well as Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Some of her most treasured moments on stage have been right here at The Human Race including Catherine in Proof and Harper in Angels in America. She is a proud member of Actors’ Equity and graduate of Wright State University. For over 20 years, Jen has loved bringing truth to illusion. The real magic in her life continues to be the love and support she gets from friends and family, especially husband Jason and son Max. Thanks for letting Mommy play!
Claire Kennedy (Laura) Previously with The Human Race: Lend Me a Tenor, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, A Christmas Carol and Shenandoah. New York/Regional: Welcome to America (New World’s Theatre Project), The Tempest (Eureka Suitcase), Signs from God, The More Beyond (The Puzzle Festival), Into the Woods (90XArts), Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Taming of the Shrew, The Odyssey (The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ), Infinitely Yours (Presque Isle Guest Artist), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (ESC), among others. Film: Life in a Box with Cerisaie Films, Check Please, Amnesia Party, among others. Claire is thrilled to be back at The Race and sends so many thanks to Greg, Kevin, Tara and the entire HRTC family. She lives in NYC but is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and is a proud alum of Wright State University’s Professional Actor Training Program. www.TheClaireKennedy.com, Twitter: @OneClassyClaire.
Drew Vidal (Jim) is delighted to be making his Human Race debut. While based in Chicago, he worked with The Hypocrites, Famous Door, Collaboraction, Red Hen, Defiant, Tin Fish, Rivendell, and Boxer Rebellion, among others. Some favorite roles include D’artagnan in a world premiere adaptation of The Three Musketeers (Illinois Shakespeare Festival), Cash in Night Woods (workshop reading at A Red Orchid Theatre), Joe Pitt in Angels in America, Part 1 (Ball State University), and Davis in Red Light Winter (Shafer Street Playhouse). Also a teaching artist and fight director, Drew now coordinates the BFA Acting Option at Ball State.