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Face to Face with Tennessee Williams

Anthony Laura and Face to Face Films embarked a journey artistically when we were no longer allowed to do so physically. His reading series, THEATRE INTERRUPTED began during lockdown and explored classic American drama by imbuing it with fresh energy by offering “dream roles” to young artists, allowing them to tackle plays by Albee, Miller, and Williams and other great playwrights in a safe environment while proving quality virtual, entertainment to audiences all across the world.

July’s entry:

THE GLASS MENAGERIE
JULY 31ST 1:00 PM BROADWAY ON DEMAND
KRISTEN SEAVEY: AMANDA WINGFIELDALEXANDRA SALTER: LAURA WINGFIELDSAMUEL CRUZ: TOM WINGFIELDGABE CALLEJA: JIM, THE GENTLEMAN CALLER

Ai spoke with Laura and company about climbing thr mountain of Tennessee Williams … again.

What sparked your decision to direct THE GLASS MENAGERIE?

ANTHONY M. LAURA: The Glass Menagerie has been on my radar more than normally the past two years.  One of the themes I deal with in my work very heavily is illusion, and Menagerie was seminal in conquering that theme.  I found myself rediscovering the play as I approached it and was enthralled with every aspect of it again, as if I was reading it for the first time.  It is remarkably specific and haunting.  I wanted new audiences to experience the magic of the Wingfield’s.  My goal is putting it on a virtual platform was to allow everyone who watched to experience the words, the pain and the humanity that the play captures.  These characters are etched in our memories for a reason.  It was so exciting working with this remarkable cast and exploring the truth of this world. I was able to also see the effect that Tennessee Williams had on me as a writer with my work and how grateful I have been to further learn from his gifts.

What was your prior experience with the play?

GABE CALLEJA: I came across Glass Menagerie quite often in scene study classes before, but I had never seen it from start to finish in its entirety. So for the most part, I was coming in pretty fresh with just a basic understanding of the events of the play.

ALEXANDRA SALTER: I had very little experience with the play, I had only read it once before. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: I worked on a scene in high school and that’s about it. Very limited and barely knew what the play is about. The only memory I had was a line that Laura says with peculiar punctuation: “My Glass! – Menagerie”. I can confirm that this is a line that 15-year-olds working on scenes from a play they didn’t understand thought was hilarious. With characters like Amanda there’s a fine balance. Amanda is theatrical. Out of all of the characters in the play, she’s the one who is the most over the top. On one hand, I think Amanda is a character that is easier to be too “over the top” with and not connect with the humanity and with the fears and insecurities she has—the things a modern audience can still connect with in a story set almost a century ago. We worked on pushing those boundaries and finding a balance of bringing out Amanda’s theatrics while keeping it honed in to her reality and the natural realism I bring to my own work. Really understanding each moment and each line and the motivations behind them to clearly tell the story with the right balance of theatrics and realism.Also trusting myself that I’m capable of tackling such a famous and delicate role. 

SAMUEL CRUZ: I saw the play the first time I went to New York with Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto. It was the first time I had seen a play that made me feel depressed after watching it. I thought that was so cool and raw as a high school drama kid. I then performed the gentleman caller scene in class where I copied exactly what I saw on broadway. 

What did you and Anthony work on in rehearsals?

GABE CALLEJA:  We focused on Jim’s vulnerability and specificity with each character that he interacts with or talks about throughout the play. 

ALEXANDRA SALTER:  Anthony and I worked a lot on Laura’s injury; how it looked and what it felt like. We also focused on what her driving need is in the play. She needs to feel loved and seen. And we specified what that would be like coming from Amanda, Tom, and someone outside the family (like a gentleman caller), and how it would feel to have that all ripped away.

KRISTEN SEAVEY: Tennesse Williams is a tough cookie, and there are two camps actors can fall into when working on his writing. The first is not connecting with the heart of the material and going so theatrical it’s borderline caricature, and the second is too understated where you’re missing important parts of the character’s personality out of fear of “going too big”.

SAMUEL CRUZ: Obviously everything that you normally work on when producing a play, but I think a lot of work and focus was put on the relationship between the family. It plays a huge role in the circumstances of the story, and is what ends up being so poignant. He personally worked with me on the two places we see Tom in the play; the present and the memory which opened up my view and my further appreciation for the play.

What does the play mean to you?

GABE CALLEJA: After the table read, I was quite taken aback at how much I was able to relate to the play and these characters. It has quickly become one of my favorites and I would love another crack at this play on the stage one day. It’s a story that is so simple yet highly compelling. Every thought and action seemes deliberate and reveals so much more than is on the page.

ALEXANDRA SALTER: It means so much to me to be playing this iconic role. It is an honor to tell Laura’s story and to bring Tennessee Williams words to life. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: I have a special place for the classics from the early to mid twentieth century and it’s always a special time when I get the rare opportunity to work on them.

SAMUEL CRUZ: Honestly, I don’t think I have an answer to this quite yet. Working in general after such a long time has meant the world to me. Getting back into doing what I love has been invigorating. As for how this play will effect me, I couldn’t tell you yet. I’m still deep into this process. I’m sure it’s going to stick with me for awhile. Tom is unlike any character I have been given the opportunity to explore. 

What did you discover about the play while working on it?

GABE CALLEJA: I discovered that the best written characters are those that are trying to justify their flaws in their thoughts and actions. No one is complete and we are all doing the best we can. Sometimes that leads to miscommunications that can blossom into captivating and compelling conflict. This play executes this notion perfectly.

ALEXANDRA SALTER: Throughout this process I discovered how important Laura’s glass menagerie really is. It is a representation of her, and as we go along in the play, we see how the glass reflects what Laura is feeling and how she is changing. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: Tennessee Williams’ writing has everything you need right there, you just have to peel back the layers and work together to understand it both emotionally and physically. 

SAMUEL CRUZ: For me, this play has been a lot about rediscovering. Feeling again what’s it’s like to live with a character for a couple weeks and really get to know them in me. I’ve discovered a lot of things about myself throughout. I think I realized this play is a lot more sad than I initially thought. I’ve also learned a great amount about Tennessee’s life and how it parallels this play. Thats been the real heartbreak in the process for me. But also discovering that the play really seems like a ‘what if’ scenario. 

What would you say to someone who isn’t familiar with the play?

GABE CALLEJA: There is a beautiful rawness to this play. You constantly feel like you want to save the characters from themselves but they are all stuck in their situations, some looking to escape, some without the means to. This creates such a palpable tension that is relatable and engaging to watch.

ALEXANDRA SALTER: This is the first memory play ever produced. This new style opened up a whole new way to explore a character’s experiences. The Glass Menagerie is told told through Tom’s perspective, a character based off Williams himself.

How has working on the play changed the way you hear the name Tennessee Williams?

GABE CALLEJA: There is good reason as to why Tennessee Williams is a household name to even non theater-goers. His reputation and work speaks for themselves. I’ve had the pleasure of working or watching a few of his plays in the last year, and, suffice to say, he has become one of my favorite playwrights. I expected his work to be impressive, but there’s such a deep and full characterization in his style that you can’t help but relate and fall in love with his characters. 

ALEXANDRA SALTER: I have always had the utmost respect for Tennessee Williams. That respect has only grown after working on this play, knowing the characters are based off him and his family. I have been given the opportunity to look through a window to his past, and I am so grateful to him for sharing his story, no matter how difficult it may have been to tell. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: This is my second Tennessee Williams play with Face to Face and certainly! First that something so big can be told clearly in a virtual format and second that younger actors are capable of working on roles they might not yet be cast in.

SAMUEL CRUZ: It has just furthered my appreciation for him. I’ve always known him the be one of the best playwrights to exist. When you live with work for awhile you will of course have more of an understanding of the artist. I feel like I got a little more close to him. Maybe understood a little more what it was like to be him.

What do you want people to come away with after seeing this?

GABE CALLEJA: The play works hard to create the circumstances that leave you feeling a mix of hopefulness and hopelessness by the end. It is a rich, paradoxical feeling that is provocative and leaves you wondering about the fate of the characters in the play. If we can achieve that for our audiences, I would call that a success!

ALEXANDRA SALTER: I want people to come away from the play understanding that we all need the same thing in life. We all want to be accepted and loved no matter who we are. At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel like they belong. 

KRISTEN SEAVEY: A better understanding of classic writing like Tennesse Williams and of The Glass Menagerie itself, especially if their only experience is reading it once in high school. 

SAMUEL CRUZ: I would say that my high school self was right in some way. I think in life you inevitably have to make tough decisions, and you might not always make the right decision. But you just have to keep trying and keep living. Memory is a helpful stepping stone but we are only given one direction. Forward.


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