Tennessee Williams uses a vary of dramatic techniques in Scene One, to encourage the audience to engage in what is truly behind this spectacular play. He uses mood music, lighting, symbolism, language and gesture, contrast in characters and also a screen device. These are very visual to the audience and help them understand what is going on in certain scenes and important moments. The audience see a change in Tom’s role at the beginning of the play. Williams uses him as a character and also the narrator of the play.
He transfers us from real-time back into his memory of the past events and a good director would choose to do this smoothly in order to give maximum effect. All these techniques that Williams uses form a “plastic theatre”, which emphasizes the exaggerated props used on the stage. The first dramatic impact the audience receive from the opening scene is the fact that the play starts at the end. Tom has left the household and has become a merchant sailor. Even though he has achieved the life he has wanted, he still has that emotional attachment to the past and to Laura.
The play demonstrates the unhappiness that Tom is feeling and how hard it is for him to let go of the past events. The stage directions in The Glass Menagerie give the audience a focus on what detail the play has. It helps them imagine what the setting would be truly like in real life. It also allows the director of the play to set the stage and give the play the proper feel that Williams intended. The dark alleys mentioned in the stage directions give the setting a claustrophobic environment. This relates to Laura and how she feels outside the apartment.
She does not like being in crowds and is very shy. The director of the play may set the stage as having the dark alleys surrounding the apartment, to make it look as if it is closing in on the family, heightening all the tension and locking the anger and frustration in. The overall impression of the stage will be highly effective if the director uses the stage directions in the right manner and concentrates on the important symbolic props, such as Laura’s glass collection. Williams also uses music to enhance the dramatic impact of the play at important points.
It emphasizes the moods and feelings of the characters when they are acting and it lets the audience begin to feel themselves what the characters must be feeling. The characters themselves do not hear the music, only the audience does so Williams brings in the music from outside the play and not from within it. In Scene One, the piece “The Glass Menagerie” was specifically written for this play and it heightens the emotion at the end of the scene when Laura’s character becomes the subject of that moment.
The audience engage in the emotion with her and it shows that Laura has a delicate and fragile character and her vulnerability, which will be shown more clearly during the play. Even the title of the music piece itself, “The Glass Menagerie” suggests it is fragile and has an important meaning to the play. In the interior setting, effective lighting is used to also emphasize certain emotions during a scene. In scene one, the lighting is dim, reflecting Tom’s memory. He is remembering the past, which is not a happy one and so bright lighting would not be suitable for this effect.
Referring to the stage directions, the lighting is not realistic. This gives the play a slightly surreal feel, as it is in Tom’s memory, which he exaggerates slightly. At the end of scene one, a “shaft of very clear light is thrown on [Laura’s] face”. This underlines the fact that she cannot cope with her mothers’ attitude towards her and the gentlemen callers. Laura feels pressurised, leaving an even more distressed character showing. By placing spotlights on the characters at certain times, it expresses their thoughts better and it wants the audience to focus on that character.
In scene one, but also throughout the play, there are several symbolisms. These include objects, colours and also characters. One of the main symbolic props is the fire escape. It expresses the fact that Tom wants to leave the apartment and live his own free life away from Amanda and her tormenting ways. He feels restricted in the confined space and at that present time, the only escape he really has is the fire escape balcony to their apartment, where he regularly goes out to smoke a cigarette. When we see him here, it creates the impact that he is anticipating his escape from the apartment.
On the other hand, the fire escape shows that Laura wants to escape into the apartment. She does not enjoy being in crowds because she is shy and over-exaggerates her slight limp. It relates to her collection and shows that it is her only escape. She turns away from the outside world, as at the end of scene one, she believes that she is “going to be an old maid”. Amanda also tries to re-create the past in scene one. She talks about her gentlemen callers and how Laura will receive them too, but Laura is convinced she will receive none.
We see Amanda’s Southern-living style as she is already preparing for a gentleman caller. One of the most symbolic pieces of prop there is on the stage is the picture of their father. The director may wish to heighten the importance of it by making it large scale compared to the rest of the stage props. In the Tom’s soliloquy, he says, “There is a fifth character in the play who doesn’t appear except in this larger-than-life size photograph”. Tom’s tone here is cynical and he also includes a pun to make the fact of his father leaving more comical for the audience.
The size of the picture expresses to the audience how big a part he played in the families’ lives and how they have been left with a saddened memory of him, filled with anger. Amanda, in scene one, says, ‘But I picked your father! ‘ This affects Laura and we then know it is a sore point to touch on. When Amanda says this, Laura rises and begins clearing the table, making it obvious that she wishes not to talk about the subject. Later in the play, we see how the dramatic impact of the father abandoning them has when Tom also leaves.
The audience also get a dramatic impact when they see the language used by Tom and the other characters. In Tom’s soliloquy at the beginning of scene one, he describes himself as the “opposite of a stage magician”. He paints a picture for the audience to set the tone of the play. It is a memory play, so Tom has to use different to contrast between memory and real-time. There is a big contrast between Tom’s language and Amanda’s. Tom sees the real world and tends to be sarcastic towards Amanda. He says at the table in scene one, “It’s you that makes me rush through meals with your hawk-like attention to every bite I take”.
He is not afraid to show what he feels towards his mother, even though he loves her dearly. Whereas, Amanda’s language tends to be fantasised and exaggerated in her own little world. An example of this is when Amanda is talking about her gentlemen callers: “-seventeen! – Gentlemen callers! Why, sometimes there weren’t chairs enough to accommodate them all. ” By Amanda expressing this, it makes Laura feel even more insecure about herself and it is Amanda, who I think, is driving Laura to this shyness and low self esteem. Laura’s language is very different to Tom and Amanda’s.
In the first scene, the audience see that Laura does not say very much and likes to keep out of the light. We can sense her nervousness and her gestures suggest her low confidence even in her own home. There is a strong contrast between all three characters behaviour. In scene one, at the table, there is tension between Amanda and Tom, which highlights their unique characters and beliefs. Laura has a very shy character contrast to the others and during the first scene, she says very little. When Tom and Amanda argue, we see Laura get slightly uncomfortable and frightened of confrontation.
We see her as the person ‘in the middle’ of arguments as she does not know which way to go and does not want the family splitting up even more. We also see her in this scene get uneasy when the father is mentioned. This triggers the audience to believe that she is still trying to get over the fact that he left them and how big the emotional scar is that was left. A screen device is also included in the stage directions of the play. This has several good dramatic impacts to the play. In scene one, we see the unique effect it has on how the audience can interpret the characters emotions and how it all relates to the past.
This comes from a 15th century poet and it praises beautiful women. The title means ‘Where are the snows of yesteryear? ‘ and it reminds the audience of Amanda’s younger past. Overall, the first scene of The Glass Menagerie has a good dramatic base and sets a good tone for the rest of the play. We get a sound viewing of each of the characters and how they behave, and also the audience get some background knowledge prior to actual acting of Tom’s memory. With this, the audience can then settle into the play well and understand what is happening at certain points.