With esteemed works under his belt like “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Tennessee Williams is one of the most well-known playwrights of the 20th century. One of Williams’ most famous plays will be performed on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus with Nebraska Repertory Theater’s 11-performance adaptation of “The Glass Menagerie,” running from Nov. 6-17 in the Temple Building.
“The Glass Menagerie” is a semi-autobiographical look at Williams’ life. Partially based on Williams’ own family, the play follows the Wingfields: Tom, who acts as the narrator, his sister, Laura, and his mother, Amanda. Set in 1930s-St. Louis, the story is presented as a memory play, with Tom recounting the events that led up to him leaving his family.
The play has seen multiple mainstream adaptations since it premiered on Broadway in 1945 — a production that was named Best American Play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. It has been revived three times on Broadway, most recently in 2017 with Sally Field as Amanda Wingfield, and has been adapted into two Hollywood film versions.
The Nebraska Rep’s production of “The Glass Menagerie” is directed by the Rep’s artistic director, Andy Park, and stars Donna Steele as Amanda, Ben Page as Tom, Kami Cooper as Laura and Michael Zavodny as Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller with whom Laura is in love.
Cooper, a senior theatre performance major at UNL, has a history with Nebraska Rep productions, playing Eve in 2017’s “The Serpent” and Percival in 2018’s “Lord of the Flies.” She described her role in “The Glass Menagerie” as a very shy and reserved character, which she said is the opposite of her own personality. Laura also walks with a limp, so Cooper spends each show in a leg brace.
Cooper cited these character traits as crucial elements in her process of capturing Laura’s essence.
“I'm not a super shy person, [so I had to remind] myself that she is constantly in fear of people watching her … just allowing myself consciousness that I try to hide and allowing those insecurities to kind of come out is very, very helpful in the rehearsal room,” she said. “Limping, that is one thing that I struggle with very much as an actor in this sense, but that I have to do for this character.”
With a cast of four, “The Glass Menagerie” is a very intimate portrayal of complicated family dynamics. Cooper said working alongside Page and Steele, who she said are professional equity actors, was intimidating at first, but she quickly grew comfortable as rehearsals progressed.
“[Page and Steele] were complete strangers to me the first day of rehearsal,” Cooper said. “So … being a student working with those professionals felt very, very intimidating at first. I mean, they're just people, and they're wonderful, but at the same time, I'm still in training. I'm only 20 years old. These are professionals, so [those sorts] of insecurities kind of helped in my character.”
While the play deals with heavy emotions, Cooper said she has found much love within the fractured Wingfield family during rehearsals — a theme she hopes theatergoers discover as well.
“One of the most important things about this production that I feel is that, even though there is heartbreak, and it feels like there's betrayal, and there's disappointment — all these really, really heavy things — there's so much love between mother and child, between siblings … between all of the heartbreak and the hard things,” Cooper said. “I really, really hope that comes across, and I hope that that's what audiences are looking for.”
Tickets to the Nebraska Rep’s production of “The Glass Menagerie” can be purchased online.
This article was modified on Nov. 5 at 9:56 a.m. to correct the dates of "The Glass Menagerie."