I should start be making clear that I have never been to St Louis, I have no current plans to visit and have little faith in my ability to find it on a map (though could probably pinpoint it to within 1000 miles or so – which would require an absolutely massive pin).
No, last night was my second Playdate – this time a read-through of Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie. This is set in St Louis – well, within a single rather poky apartment in St Louis. As the bar was full of mermaids (or I think that’s what they said), it was held in a meeting room at the University Club (which is much less exciting than I’ve made it sound – far fewer over-stuffed leather armchairs than I would want in a Club). For a free gig, it is astoundingly good value – nearly 3.5 hours of entertainment with wine and softer drinks provided gratis. This time we – the assembled throng – introduced ourselves and so I discovered that everyone else in the room was an actor, director or playwright. As mere “audience” I felt somewhat of a fraud, though comfort myself with the fact that, in some way, I fund everyone else’s career.
Actually, I also felt somewhat of a fraud at the Nuffield the previous week when I attended 451 (their regular poetry night) and discovered that I was almost the only audience member not performing poetry. Despite my limited qualifications and complete lack of preparation, one of my poems was read out during the evening. In the interval, we all had to write a short poem on the subject “Manifesto” and mine was one of the top four (and so read aloud): oh yes, people – be very afraid! – as I now I have reason to believe that I’m an actual poet! Given that I have all the emotional development of a teenage boy, expect GofaDM to be taken over by my angst-ridden poesy in the near future. However, this validation was not the evening’s highlight, even for your self-obsessed narrator – no that was the excellent set by Kate Fox, which would have made the whole evening worthwhile just for the phrase “binge thinking” which graced one of her poems.
But, let’s return to St Louis and such plot as I am willing to provide to this post. As my first exposure to Mr Williams’ oeuvre I was rather impressed by The Glass Menagerie – though it is not a cheery tale – and surprised to find the title can be taken literally (it is not a metaphor). Despite the strong competition from actual actors, I was able to play Tom (now) during the first half and had an absolute ball. Those who follow me on Facebook (or is follow the wrong verb? Those who poke me on Facebook?) will know that I was wondering whether to attempt the full southern accent – and those who know me in person, will further wonder if I did essay the accent whether anyone else would (a) know and (b) recognise it. In the end, I didn’t go for the full “Gone with the Wind” but I did modify my normal speaking voice to add a bit of a drawl and move my speech rhythms and pronunciation a little closer to what I imagined would be authentic (and I was given a lot of background to the character by Sam, the director). This did force the young lad playing Tom (then) – who in play terms was 6 years my junior, but in real life nearer 26 – to also hazard a somewhat American accent (which I thought was a result). Given the actual nature of the play, I’m glad I rejected my other plan which was to attend wearing a sweat-stained wife-beater (more Streetcar than Menagerie, as it transpired).
I continue to think I make for a rather good actor at a first reading – for a start, I’m rather better at sight-reading than most people (based, I will admit, on a rather limited sample). In fact, my biggest worry about my own performance was that my German pronunciation of the word “Berchtesgaden” was far too accurate for an American youth in 1943. However, I strongly suspect that by a second or third reading, real actors would improve their performance significantly whilst mine will remain largely unimproved (though I would fudge my German a little more). Despite this, the lure of the stage is very strong!
After the read-through, we had a very interesting discussion about the play and its themes and characters. The Nuffield will be staging The Glass Menagerie later this year, and I now find I have very strong views about various aspects of the play – particularly, the meaning of Jim (who, unusually, I am not worried about – a reference there for the Mrs Dale’s Diary fans, who have been cruelly neglected in recent years).