Over the weekend, I saw a marvellous play with my mother – The Glass Menagerie, at Soulpepper Theatre. I took her to see it for her birthday. As my mom and I were waiting for the play to start, I was reading Tennessee Williams’ bio in the programme and a couple sentences jumped out at me. I read aloud: “Success came after poverty and odd jobs, a nervous breakdown, three attempts to get his undergraduate degree and a first play that flopped. He was 34 years old.”
My mom looked over with mirthful, ironic eyes. “That is so you!”
I’m turning 34 this year, and my first book will be published shortly (hopefully this fall, though my publisher tells me we may need to delay until early spring….) I’m crossing my fingers it won’t be a flop, like Williams’ first play. My dissertation rather fell on its face, so I’m counting that as getting my initial flop out of my system. And like Williams, I suffered a breakdown while peddling my trade as an adjunct prof in the backwaters of Nova Scotia, which I definitely consider an “odd job.”
My mother smiled and we settled back in our seats to a play that we both agreed was the best we’d seen in quite a while. The matriarch at the centre of The Glass Menagerie is Amanda Wingfield, a faded southern beauty who parades around the living room of her shabby apartment in St. Louis, driving her two adult children, Tom and Laura, mad with stories of all her “gentleman callers” and former glory. The actor who plays Amanda (Nancy Palk) brings just the right balance of manic energy and melancholy nostalgia to the role. That her search to find a husband for timid, awkward Laura is doomed from the beginning is something everyone in the audience can just feel in their bones. Laura is a strange, almost autistic young woman caught in a perpetual state of girlhood, her only interest playing with a menagerie of tiny glass animals. Meanwhile, Tom – a factory worker and would-be poet – proves no less fragile and fallible on his own journey to escape the stifling conditions of home.
Their vulnerability makes these characters fascinating to watch, and most importantly, you can really feel their suffering. And yet, even the darkest scenes are cut through with flashes of levity and beauty – a boy Laura had a crush on in high school nicknames her “Blue Roses,” because he misheard her say she suffers from pleurosis. These fleeting moments of connection, humour and intense feeling somehow make all the suffering of life worthwhile, the play seems to suggest.
The following evening, “Blue Roses” still lingering in my mind, I couldn’t resist renting Blue Valentine – a no less tragic, beautiful movie about lost love and thwarted expectations. Just to make sure I’d thoroughly worked myself up into an emotional lather.
And the next morning, after a lethargic spell of a few days, I found that the words were flowing again. What a relief. I didn’t leave my desk for the next several hours, immersed once again in writing the world of my novel.
Photo from: here