Yesterday, I was discussing the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie that I was lucky enough to see last week. The person I was speaking with, an actress of a certain age, asked me what I thought of the production. I told her that when you see a play like that, you have a hope that you are going to witness the definitive portrayal of these iconic characters. I had hoped to see the definitive Amanda, the matriarch of the Wingfield family or the definitive Tom, the narrator and central, autobiographical character of the play. In my humble opinion, that is not what I witnessed. Both Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto gave heartfelt, formidable performances, but I left wanting a little more.
My friend, I’ll call her Jane, said that an actor needs to understand the poetry of Williams to play his characters. I agreed and admitted to a struggle with the poetry when I worked on another Williams character in an acting class. “You know who would have made a wonderful Amanda?” Jane asked me. “Who?”
I confess to you that I actually gasped a little when she said that. “You mean Laura?” I asked. “No, Amanda.” Jane went on to tell me that many years ago, she had been in the same acting class as Marilyn. She told me her Amanda would have been something to see. In some ways, I’ll admit, I couldn’t see it.
And yet, in the two days since she put this idea in my head, it’s all I can think about. One would not have a hard time believing that Marilyn’s Amanda would have had a trail of gentlemen callers. One would not have a hard time believing that Marilyn’s Amanda would have chosen the most unpromising of those gentlemen callers. Marilyn’s Amanda would have understood that Williams is funny. And Marilyn’s Amanda, entering the living room with the ridiculous old cotillion dress from her youth, would have been, as Jane put it, something to see. So many possibilities.
If you are a drama nerd like me, and you’re still reading this, no doubt, you’ve had your own opinions pop into your head about the possibility of Marilyn Monroe’s Amanda Wingfield. Maybe you like the idea, maybe you hate the idea. Whether over a cup of coffee or a Makers Mark neat, these are the conversations I love.
Because this is the way my little brain works, I think of what might have happened if Marilyn had played Amanda. What might Amanda have unlocked for Marilyn. There is something exciting about living with a character that helps us understand the world we live in and understand ourselves better. Maybe Amanda could have saved Marilyn, maybe she wouldn’t have left this world so young. And maybe Amanda would have turned Marilyn into a great actress, not just a compelling movie star.
And there is something else about yesterday’s conversation that I’ve carried with me. It goes back to those possibilities. I told Jane that Marilyn as Amanda sounded so wrong and Jane said, “It might be! And it might be so wrong that it’s right!” Maybe this conversation will unlock in me the practice to see the possibilities for myself, that Tom Wingfield isn’t the only one with tricks in his pocket, things up his sleeve.