Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie remembers a time during the 1930’s Depression when he brought home, at the insistence of his mother, a Gentleman Caller for his disabled sister, only to discover too late that the young man was already engaged.
It remains one of his most popular plays and is regularly revived. Wistful, poetic, and achingly sad, the gentlest of tragedies is excellently acted by an all-American cast at Duke of York’s Theatre.
The relationship between doting, overbearing mother (Cherry Jones) and her son (Michael Esper), who desperately wants to escape her clutches and his dead-end job, is perfectly realised in John Tiffany’s production. In the beautiful second act the painfully self‑conscious sister (Kate O’Flynn), as delicate and fragile as her glass menagerie, entertains the man she had idolised at high school. Their long scene is one of the most heart‑rending in modern drama. Brian J Smith, so nice, so simpatico, so tender and so charming, is perfect. I have not seen the Gentleman Caller better played.
In 1938 Stefan Zweig, an Austrian Jewish refugee living in exile in Britain having fled the Nazis, wrote a novel, Beware of Pity, which has been adapted for the stage by Complicite’s Simon McBurney and Berlin’s Schaubuhne. The performances quickly sold out at the Barbican.
Anton Hofmiller, in middle age, remembers when he was a young and impoverished cavalry officer (pre-World War I) and attended a rich landowner’s ball. He was a success with the ladies and having a pleasant time when he suddenly realised he had not asked his host’s daughter to dance; he quickly made amends only to find, to his great embarrassment, that she was paralysed. Motivated by pity, Hofmiller befriended her and led her to believe that he might marry her; meanwhile her family begins to believe that his love for her might heal her of her disease.
The disabled woman is a shrill, ugly, raging, disturbing presence. Hofmiller should run a mile. Instead, he becomes as emotionally paralysed as she is physically paralysed.
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