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‘The Glass Menagerie’ is a hypnotic drama: 1945 review

Julie Harris stars as Amanda Wingfield of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" in a 1994 production.Carol Rosegg

Julie Harris stars as Amanda Wingfield of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” in a 1994 production.

(Originally published by the Daily News on April 2, 1945. This story was written by John Chapman.)

Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” is an enchanting play. Hardly anything happens in it and it is as quiet as quiet can be — yet, when one leaves the Playhouse and meets reality on the 48th St. sidewalk, one realizes that some kind of hypnotism has been at work.

It is the hypnotism of good playing by four actors; the hypnotism of a dramatist who can show you four very unimportant, very undramatic people and make you live with them and feel for them; the hypnotism of a scene designer and a musician whose work subtly underscores each small change of mood. It is, in short, the hypnotism of the theatre when the theatre is used for its proper purpose of enchantment.

“The Glass Menagerie” came Saturday night to the Playhouse after having become a drama of note and debate in Chicago. Until Saturday night Chicago wasn’t standing so well, for all it had sent us this season was “School for Brides” and “Good Night Ladies.” It is now forgiven these errors and is gratefully saluted for having sent along Laurette Taylor, Eddie Dowling, Anthony Ross and Julie Haydon.

Only Tennesse Williams can tell you what his play is about, really, so I shall do no more than give a hint or two. It’s about a widow and her grown son and daughter who live in a St. Louis alley about the time “My Blue Heaven” was popular.

An Endearing Passage.

The widow is a slightly cracked Southern belle; the son a dreamer who clerks in a warehouse for $ 65 a month; the daughter a cripple who will not face the world. (The girl’s world is a phonograph and a collection of glass animals — hence the title of the play.)

New York Daily News published this on April 2, 1945.New York Daily News

New York Daily News published this on April 2, 1945.

The dinner one night comes another fellow from the warehouse — an awkward, gum — chewing extravert, apparently. But awkward, gum-chewing extraverts have ambitions and even souls in Mr. Williams’ playbook, and the way this character is presented — and the way he gives the cripple a spiritual lift — make one of the most endearing passages in a remarkably fine play.

Miss Taylor, in the role of the faintly blowsy widow, is a joy to watch and hear. Humor and pathos are beautifully mated in her performance, and it is one of the top impersonations of the season. Miss Haydon is perfectly cast as the crippled elf with the glass menagerie, and Mr. Ross’ graceless earnestness as the gentleman caller has great charm.

Dowling Double Hit.

Mr. Dowling puts his mark upon the drama, both as an actor and as the co-director with Margo Jones. As actor, he is the son, who clerks in a warehouse, dreams of being a poet and escapes from the world by going to movies. He is also the narrator, telling the audience once in a while what happened, or what is going to happen, a little as did Frank Craven in “Our Town” and as does Joan Tetzel in “I Remember Mama.”

Both as actor and as director Mr. Dowling is Mr. Dowling — a man of underplaying if ever there was one. When you see “The Glass Menagerie” be prepared to listen and not to cough, else everybody but Mr. Ross will be almost inaudible in the back of the house. But I would not have it otherwise. Any higher key might dispel the enchantment.

Jo Mileziner’s setting of the St. Louis flat and alleyway is a work of fine imagination, and Paul Bowles’ music helps to break one spell or weave another as need be. The Playhouse, which has sheltered uncounted little miseries this season, may now feel certain that it has a hit.

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