Brandeis Theater Company to perform 'Glass Menagerie'

To fully absorb the weight of playwright Tennessee Williams’ breakthrough autobiographical work “The Glass Menagerie” you need some life experience, says Paula Plum, who will direct the Brandeis Theater Company’s production of the play, which begins its run Thursday.

“It’s about sorrow, ambition and shattered dreams. At 21, you have surely experienced life and sorrow, but not with the hindsight you have at 55,” says Plum, a recent winner of the Elliott Norton Award for Sustained Excellence in Boston theater. “So this play is asking [students] to expand their hearts and minds, which is always a good thing to do.”

The story is set in St. Louis in 1937, and revolves around the memories of Tom, an aspiring poet, who along with Laura, his shy, troubled sister, is raised by Amanda, a poor, abandoned southern belle with big aspirations for herself and her children.

“It’s a stunning piece about the need for dreams, but also about what happens when you live in your dreams,” Plum says.

Plum has acted on Boston stages for decades and taught theater at Boston Conservatory and UMass Lowell. She says it’s a great play for students to perform because of the richness and complexity of the characters, which are drawn from Williams’ own family.

“It’s not like saying, OK, Ellyn, put on a wig and just pretend that you’re 55 – just go for it,” says Ellyn Getz ’13, who has taken on the role of 55-year-old Amanda. “There’s a lot more to this character than a wig and some makeup. A lot of the experiences Amanda has gone through I’ve never gone through myself.”

To better understand her character, Getz delved into research on Williams’ life. It’s especially important to maintain the integrity of the characters, she says, because it’s an autobiographical work. Through her research, she’s really grown attached to this character she calls both a survivor and a “tragic remnant of Southern gentility” who, alone, is raising two kids in poverty.

“I really respect her and I love her,” Getz says. “I’ve never loved a character like this but it’s also the most challenging role I’ve ever played.”

Which is why she’s so happy to have Plum as a director. Getz says Plum has a vision for the play down to the smallest details.

“With [Plum] I feel like I not only get acting lessons every day, but life lessons, too,” Getz says.

The performance will take place in the Merrick Theater in the Spingold Theater Center, which has recently been renovated to serve as a classroom by day and theater at night. This means the cast and crew has to be creative about the space and lighting, she Plum says, making it another learning opportunity for them.

“A directing opportunity at a college is as much a teaching opportunity as anything else,” Plum says.

Performances will be held Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $10 ($5 for the Brandeis community, students and seniors) and can be purchased at Brandeis Tickets or by calling (781) 736-3400.

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