In a time of the season where many theater companies roll out a frothy farce or comedy, Mount Airy High School’s Theatre department has chosen a serious play from popular playwright Tennessee Williams’ cannon of works.
MAHS Choral and Theater Director Gena Ray said audiences can expect a lot of depth in the drama, “The Glass Menagerie,” which consists of just four characters.
“I teach this (subject) every semester and we always do a play,” said Ray. “The kids wanted to do something serious and I thought this would be a good work. It suited the talents of the players we had as well.” Ray said the drama is also being studied by students in the AP English.
She explained that “The Glass Menagerie” was one of Williams’ first successful plays. The drama is set in 1937 but was written in 1945.
“A good part of this play is autobiographical with characters similar to his own family,” said Ray. “There is an overbearing mother, his sister who is schizophrenic and he (Williams), like the character Tom, was forced to work as a clerk for a shoe company while wanting to be a writer.”
Senior Oren Bailey will portray Tom while juniors Emily Lowe will play Amanda, Tom’s mother, Peyton Marion is cast as Laura, Tom’s sister and Omar Calvillo will be Laura’s “gentleman caller,” Jim.
Ray said the play is as straightforward with complicated characters. It all happens in two acts with seven scenes. She said rehearsals started in the fall between other productions finishing up their runs. The cast has been able to concentrate on this production for five weeks.
“They have been so dedicated, working long hours,” said Ray. “They spent a lot of time figuring out why their characters do what they do and it shows on stage. There are no small parts in this play. His (Williams’) dialogue is lyrical which makes it effective but harder to memorize.”
She said Williams creates rich characters in his plays and it has been a particular challenge for the young actors to play the roles so an audience won’t hate the character, even if it is mean.
“They have really grasped the characters,” remembered Ray. “There has been a lot of discussion throughout the course of this. They even created a back story and a history of what happens to their character after the play. This has been a challenge and they enjoyed it. It becomes a part of them. they are not just saying lines.”
Emily Lowe said she has been involved with theater since elementary school and found bringing Tom’s overly abrasive mother, Amanda, to life challenging.
“It (the role) is one of the most if not the most complete characters I have ever played,” said Lowe. “I have to really emphasize she’s an antagonist who struggles with her son and daughter but I had to bring a likable feel to her because in the end she’s just trying to do what is best for her children. Williams’ female characters have a lot of depth and complexity and she (Amanda) has a lot of internal conflicts. He (Williams) doesn’t make himself (Tom) a good guy. It’s very raw with no flattery at all.”
When asked if they have found it difficult to be in a play composed of so few roles with little down time between scenes the cast members all break into broad grins. Junior Peyton Marion said it was critical everyone’s lines are “spot on” because this play is really four lead characters.
“They (the lines) are really long monologues,” said Omar Calvillo. “As long as you know your character you know what to say.” Lowe said it has been a good experience to not only learn her lines but those of cast members as well so they could help each other out.
“We had a lot of character discussion,” said Marion. “We spent thirty minutes considering what if and learned the characters’ middle names, when they were born and created a back story on the father.”
Studying and comparing the play and Williams’ life seems to have left an impression on the cast. The four agreed that William’s characters don’t fit into an archetype. Senior Oren Bailey admires William’s creations.
“A lot of his work is biographical. It mixes his life with his fiction,” said Bailey, who often plays characters with different personalities than him. “Often lines are blurred. I enjoy the exploration of different character types. The ability to express these different types is liberating.”
Marion and Calvillo agreed with Bailey about the complexity of their characters and the part audiences play in the performance as well. Calvillo said understanding the parts helped him to really grasp Williams had a painful life.
“You always hear actors say there is a good house or a bad house (the audience),” said Marion. “We feed off of the energy of an audience. It really makes an important difference.”
The curtain goes up on the production Feb. 7 and 8 in the Mount Airy High School Auditorium at 7 p.m. Admission to the show is five dollars with all proceeds supporting the theater department.
As if on cue, the interview ended and the actors took their places. The final question asked was what was the biggest change in being an actor in a high school play.
“Pop culture shows nowadays are making it cool to be a performer,” grinned Marion.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.