About beauty and brokenness

The ever-erudite Daniel Mendelsohn on The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, directed by David Leveaux, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York, March 22–July 17, 2005, in the New York Review of Books:

Event_dmendelsohn_20045“When you look at a piece of delicately spun glass,” Tennessee Williams wrote in the stage directions for The Glass Menagerie, the 1944 play that made his name, “you think of two things: how beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken.” The observation has obvious relevance to that particular drama, which famously features, as one of its symbols, a collection of delicate spun-glass animals owned by one of its soon-to-be emotionally broken characters. (As it happens, the reference to spun glass isn’t a bit of pontificating about the themes of the play: Williams is trying to suggest, with typically ample, even novelistic, descriptiveness, the quality of the musical leitmotif he has in mind for his play.) But it’s hard not to read that stage direction without thinking of Williams’s entire theatrical output: in one way or another, nearly everything he wrote is about beauty and brokenness.

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