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The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams
Ovation DVD
(2006)

This DVD, which translates a 1973 stage success on to film, is particularly welcome. The grammatically-lacking notes on the sleeve say that The Glass Menagerie is "Considered by many to be double Pulitzer Prize winner Tennessee Williams finest play".

While such hyperbole may be stretching the truth, this excellent drama should be seen and yet, despite Jessica Lange's success as Amanda Wingfield in David Leveaux' Broadway revival last year, there has been no major London production since Sam Mendes won a directing Olivier at the Donmar as far back as 1995.

The original film version could hardly have done better, its four actors all receiving 1973 - 1974 Emmy nominations with the supports each double award winners. Without wishing to be unkind, the film also contains a scintillating performance from Katharine Hepburn that surely deserved top ranking. It is hard to understand how Mary Tyler Moore could have beaten her to the Best Lead Actress In A Drama title, for her appearances in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Hepburn plays Amanda Wingfield, one of those claustrophobic Williams' mothers who unwittingly destroy the lives of their children, as surely as their own have been wrecked by their overbearing nature.

Her handsome husband was not one of the numerous "gentlemen callers" who worshipped her when she was a girl in the South. He was a drunkard with wanderlust who eventually upped and left her, probably primarily because she was unbearable to live with but also since travelling, and possibly womanising, was in his genes.

Left behind him in St Louis is a trio of unhappy and unfulfilled dreamers. Mother lives in a little world of her own where Tom and Laura are on the cusp of career and romantic success.

In reality, Sam Waterston as Tom is working in a warehouse with little chance of promotion, in part because he has no ambition and more due to a serious drinking problem that keeps him out till all hours every night.

His shy sister Laura, beautifully portrayed by Supporting Actress Of The Year Joanna Miles, is a mass of insecurities. She pretends to go to secretarial college but is too terrified to appear there and has a gammy leg that she believes would put off every man. This not all that young woman only achieves happiness when she escapes into the world of her glass menagerie, always accompanied by John Barry's haunting, tinkling piano.

Into this oddball family steps a potential suitor for Laura, Jim O'Connor (played by Michael Moriarty). He is a working colleague of Tom's and one wonders what he must have made of this strange group.

He meets a young woman who hides behind a door because she is so shy, contrasted with her mother who, in a stunning performance by Miss Hepburn, spews out words continuously and seemingly without the need for breath. Even his friend cannot provide comfort as he announces that he has reached a time when he must finally break away from the family shackles.

The most touching scene is that between Jim and Laura, when she finally, like her delicate glass unicorn, begins to learn how to rise above infirmities.

As one might expect with all of the awards, under director Anthony Harvey the actors perform wonderfully. In particular, Miss Hepburn perfectly conveys both the outward joviality of a woman who knows that life will never give her what she wishes and the despair when she discovers that this is the case.

While we might all wish to have the opportunity to see Jessica Lange and Christian Slater playing in The Glass Menagerie, until the play is revived in Britain, this DVD is an excellent alternative, even if the production qualities are sometimes all too obviously thirty years out of date.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher