The Glass Menagerie – A Note from the Artistic Director

The Glass Menagerie – A Note from the Artistic Director

A high school junior who had played a supporting role in one musical but hadn’t really cared much about the experience was waiting for a bus when he noticed a used bookstore. Curious, he wandered in – and drawn to the drama section, he scanned the titles. High on a shelf, he saw a little paperback, Six Great American Plays. He pulled it down and paid the $0.75 listed on the cover and took it home. He had never read a play before. The plays inside were The Emperor Jones by Eugene O’Neill, Winterset by Maxwell Anderson, The Man Who Came to Dinner, by Kauffman and Hart, The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, Mister Roberts by Heggen and Logan, and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Knowing nothing about any the playwrights or the plays, he randomly, perhaps intrigued by the ironic title, chose The Glass Menagerie and started reading.

Immediately captivated, he read it straight through. He was stunned. How could such a thing be possible? How could any writer capture, with only dialogue, his own inner life, his own struggle with a somewhat overbearing mother, his own feelings that he didn’t belong in his family? How did the playwright mirror so flawlessly his own exact sense of alienation? Lost in his own adolescent self-absorption, he felt that the playwright understood him completely, that Mr. Williams had climbed into his brain to explain him to him. It was as if he had been struck by lightning. His sense of awe in the face of this miracle would change his life forever and he would have no choice but to devote himself to understanding how such a miracle could be made. Many decades after his first collision with empathy, he would become the artistic director of a mid-sized theatre company in San Francisco and would have the considerable honor of producing The Glass Menagerie at San Francisco Playhouse. A completed circle.

So much has changed in the intervening decades. I think it’s fair to say that he accidentally picked the most brilliant and enduring classic of the six, but his sense of awe in the face of this miraculous play remains undiminished. Tennessee Williams’s capacity to create a world we all recognize as both utterly unique and utterly universal still transcends intellectual analysis. The Glass Menagerie is its own glass unicorn, the delicate jeweled crown of American Theatre.

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Bill English is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of San Francisco Playhouse, and in twenty years with Susi Damilano, has guided its growth from a bare-bones storefront to the second-largest theater in San Francisco.

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