Notes on Laura Wingfield: The Amber of a Dream

Piper Laurie as Laura in The Glass Menagerie, on Broadway, 1965.

Tenn in Conversation
New Orleans

It is a part that is frequently labeled as unplayable because it is frequently played incorrectly. It's not about the limp; it's not about a physical impairment. What cripples Laura is--well, several things. First and foremost, Laura is one of those people of whom I speak as being trapped in the amber of a dream: Unable to move, unable to move from a position she believes will allow the dream to happen. She wants to be happy and she wants to be loved and she wants Tom to remain young and at home, caring for her, making her laugh, giving her the comfort of proper placement. When Tom is in the house, in her orbit, she is not a cripple, an anti-social, limping embarrassment. When she is with Tom, she is young and hopeful and her care for objects as delicate and as doomed as her dreams is a noble and admired task.

I grew up around a number of people--chiefly myself--capable of devastating illness when faced with a task that was repellent. Laura is a master at this, and when I had a wonderful and smart actress in the role of Laura--I'm thinking of Lois Smith and Piper Laurie--they understood that it was a mental condition they were conveying, and that it happened to manifest itself in a number of ways, one of which was that limp, that sad accessory that she hopes will evoke sympathy, will force eyes and attention away from her.

Helen Hayes is attended by James Daly and Lonny Chapman in the 1956 City Center revival of The Glass Menagerie. Lois Smith is in the foreground.

The loss of Tom will most adversely affect Laura. Laura remains in a dark, glass-strewn nightmare, with no flattering mirror in which to gaze. What time Amanda has left on the planet--and she's tough and will live for many years--will be a constant recitation of her failures, her deficiencies. Laura will hear a Rosary of regrets for the remainder of her life, until her entire body, her mind, is stiffened and immobile.

Laura is soon to become the petrified woman, which is what happens to those who cannot move from the amber of the dream to the movement toward its realization. Laura fails to understand that love knows no location, and she does not need Tom to live and breathe and laugh next to her to enjoy and benefit from the love she has for him. She does not know this, and so she will become a glass figure on a dusty shelf until reality and progress-the enemies of amber--shove her to the ground.

If you can understand this about Laura and love her, you can play her.


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