I have just experienced two theatrical entities, one after another. The first was Glass Menagerie, read at a dead gallop in maybe 40 minutes. Also I spent two hours watching the season premiere of Twin Peaks. Both shows bear analysis.
(Sort of annoying, though–theater is an art, and what does it mean to analyze the fun you just had? It seems like saying, “My, that was quite interesting sex the two of us had an hour ago. Your thrusting was well-timed, and the foreplay was of adequate length.” Picking something live apart always kills it. Is that at least partially so with theater?)
Glass Menagerie is amazing when ingested in a large gulp as I did. Cast of important characters: Tom, Amanda, Laura, Jim. The names aren’t important.
Amanda is the mother. Amanda is too much like my mother. Amanda wants and wants for her children. Amanda annoys her children with her odd, one-sided perspective on life and the future. Her transformation into the flouncy, “talkative” Amanda in order to finesse Jim is, for us, a trip into whatever Amanda remembers as her past. If Amanda remembers one thing, it’s how to flirt. I kept expecting Amanda to make a pass at Jim, but I think (a) Amanda’s whole life had been flirting, and (b) Mr. Williams wanted to get Jim and Laura alone in the same room for a little while. Wouldn’t be a good Williams play without a tragedy, and we have to get our hopes up to have a tragedy.
Tom always runs off “to the movies.” We actually don’t know where he goes. This is because he only goes to go. He functions as the storyteller/narrator/second banana. The story is Amanda’s and Laura’s.
Jim is also something of a receptacle. Jim is alternately salvation and damnation to a life of normality, both for Amanda and Laura. I think, had it not been for the final exchange in Scene VII between Jim and Laura, both Jim and Tom might possibly have been simplified out of the script. Or am I missing the essence of the plot?
We are most interested in Laura. Laura is the tragic heroine, and the play lives for her. Since she gives us few details about herself, Mr. Williams has Jim sketch her character through the dialogue in VII. Scene VII is, by the way, perfect. The glass unicorn dialogue is the simplest and most pleasant analogy in so short a space I have read in a long time. “Now he will feel more at home with the other horses, the ones that don’t have horns …” And we feel that Laura would trade her unselfconscious poetry in for a chance at normality. This is beautiful. This is tragic. I bet Williams conceived this moment and wrote an entire play around it.
Twin Peaks is different. To write a Twin Peaks episode, create a lot of characters that are interesting, and put them in a half-baked plot and stir, bouncing them off one another and moving the plot regularly with accepted literary tricks (foreshadowing, status games, intrigue, “dream-work,” etc.) You now have a Twin Peaks episode. Supply ample lighting effects and you’re in business.
Does this seem snide? The plot has no goal in a soap or pseudo-soap. There is no “point.” There is no reason to watch Twin Peaks except to watch more Twin Peaks. Sort of like cocaine with commercials.