Trapped in a Memory: Director Jasson Minadakis on His Concept for The Glass Menagerie

What is it about The Glass Menagerie that appeals to you?
I’ve always been intrigued by the Tennessee Williams play that lives in the Depression. Throughout Williams’s plays his characters are always desperate, there is something they’re longing to accomplish or longing to have happen. Everything about this play is incredibly urgent. The play is the battle between the love this family has for one another and the desire to accomplish other things, especially for Tom.

Many productions have done a disservice to the play by making it a wistful memory play when really it’s a very strong exploration of a family fighting to maintain itself. I really want to highlight the love between these characters. You often see the fighting and the ferocity with which they’re trying to get away from each other, only it feels hollow and selfish because all you’re seeing is the attempt to pull it apart. The only way you can be trying to pull something apart is if what’s holding it together is twice as strong. It’s the love they have for each other.

Describe your concept for the scenic design.
The scenic design was very much inspired by Tennessee’s stage directions, as well as his memory of what his sister Rose’s room looked like in their youth. She would keep her shades drawn and it made her room look like it was constantly in twilight. The reason she kept the shades closed was because her window looked out onto a cul-de-sac of alleyways and fire escapes. A neighborhood dog would regularly chase stray cats into the cul-de-sac and kill them. In order to try to block that out, she would keep her shades drawn and play records.

I knew I wanted the apartment to be surrounded by trapping mechanisms, staircases that interlock so that you can’t figure out how to get out of them. The fire escapes begin to create a cage for the world of the play, so Tom and Laura and Amanda feel imprisoned inside their apartment.

These people are crammed in on top of one another. The front door and the bedrooms are the only escape the characters have. And, of course, Tom doesn’t have a bedroom, Tom sleeps in the living room. So he has no refuge. He has nowhere to go. Once he comes out to start the story, he’s stuck in the story until it’s over.

I was incredibly interested in exploring the poverty of the family, which translated into not using props, not having a lot of furniture, not having a lot of stuff. That also ties in with the idea of this being a memory play. The only props, the only things that the audience sees in the play are the pieces that stand out in Tom’s memory. I asked each of the designers to make a list of the props they felt were absolutely essential and it came down to less than a dozen items that were necessary to tell the story.

And the music you’re using in the play?
We were looking at different versions of the script, from before the Broadway production and after, and there is a line in Tom’s opening monologue that says, “In memory everything seems to happen to music.” And then, the next line is, “That explains the fiddle in the wings.” But that line isn’t in every published version of the play. They opted to use a fiddle to underscore the production on Broadway and that’s why that line got added in.

It occurred to me that we don’t have to use a fiddle to underscore the play. We just need music. The trumpet has a lonely, melancholy sound that I think is so perfect for this play. I wanted a harder edge in a world so aggressive and so nasty. The muted trumpet felt like the perfect balance of isolation and loneliness.

Thinking about the music, I wanted the trumpet player to be on stage the whole time, underscoring everything. Whenever we hear music, because it’s Tom’s memory, Tom is filtering all the sound through this one instrument.

I’d also always been curious about the photograph of the father that figures into the story. I started thinking about why Tom would be filtering all the sound through one instrument, and that’s where the idea of linking the father to the trumpet player started to come into play. It occurred to me that I could have the photograph of the father go away and come back when we wanted it to and not be in one location if I actually had someone walking around in the fire escapes being the portrait.

That’s where the idea of having the father be the trumpet player and be in view all the time came from: at times, he’s the portrait; at times, he’s another ghost in Tom’s memory. That’s another spin on the show that I’ve never seen that I thought really allows the play to be centered on Tom.

You definitely think this is Tom’s play.
It has to be. It’s a play about his sister and about his mother and about his father, and it’s a play about him leaving and about their time together. But it’s him. He’s the one who has to learn something over the course of the play. He’s the one who has to come to the understanding of what he did. The other characters don’t learn anything, but Tom does. Tom learns that he could not leave them, no matter how hard he tried. He has to realize that he destroyed them, to a certain degree, by abandoning them.

What would you say about this production to people who have seen this play before?
We have been so loyal to the realism of these 20th century plays. We’re just getting to the point where people are starting to think about the work in the poetic sense, like the way we look at Shakespeare’s work. We’re moving away from realism and trying to find certain elements that, perhaps, are more poetically true within the story than realism would allow.

There are elements of this production that are more stylized than what people may be used to seeing with Glass Menagerie, but I think it’s going to bring a different emphasis to the play than what you’ve seen before. The sentimentality of it will be replaced by a more powerful sense of the grounding emotions. Instead of it being a wistful look back, it’s more of a painful look back for Tom. He can’t get rid of these ghosts. We’re dealing more with what the world meant to Tom rather than what the world actually was. It’s not a fully fleshed out world, but the brutality of the world and the coldness of the world, the caged feel the world gave him is what we’re highlighting. I think that’ll bring a whole new texture to the play emotionally than what we’ve seen before.