Producing The Glass Menagerie at the end of the school year wasn’t exactly in the plans for DW Poppy drama teacher James Howard.
But after seeing the success of the school’s musical, Sister Act, at the beginning of March, he started toying around with the idea of giving his students one more opportunity to show off their talent.
By the time spring break came around, while Howard was chaperoning a student trip to New York City, it all started falling into place.
“I wasn’t thinking The Glass Menagerie, even though I am familiar with the play,” he said. “And then I saw it in New York (starring) Sally Field. They used a very — what we have on stage right now is 10 times what they had on stage — and it was a sold-out house, typical Broadway $150 ticket. They did an amazing job with it, so I thought, ‘You know what? If they can do The Glass Menagerie with so little stuff, and such a small cast, then that would be a perfect choice.’”
As soon as he returned, Howard looked into the rights of the play and started casting.
The four students selected — Maeggan Palliyaguru (Grade 12), Rhys MacCarthy (Grade 12), Ryan Hollaus (Grade 12) and Mariah Bicknell (Grade 11) — were then tasked with memorizing the full length, two hour production in just under two months, and all in their spare time.
They will be performing the play in an intimate setting in the school’s drama studio, which seats 75, from May 31 to June 3.
“I really enjoy working with these four. That is probably why I decided to do another one because there’s some really talented senior students who, being my first year here, I didn’t want to just work with them in Sister Act and have them be gone,” Howard said. “So I wanted to give them another chance to let them act.”
The Glass Menagerie, written by Tennessee Williams, is a memory play where the narrator, Tom Wingfield, recounts living with his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura, in St. Louis in the 1930s.
Tom, an aspiring poet, reluctantly works in a shoe warehouse to support his family, as their father ran off years earlier. Meanwhile, his mother dreams of earlier days when she was a Southern belle, and his sister, who suffers a limp from a bout with polio, struggles with extreme shyness.
“It’s a more traditional drama,” Howard said.
“I don’t really feel there is a protagonist. There’s no antagonist for sure, there’s no villain. And I don’t really feel there is a single main character. Just about every character is on a journey, and starts off in a troubled spot… But it is very lifelike in the sense that there aren’t easy answers, we don’t have a happy ending and nobody is a perfectly good character. Everyone has their flaws that get in the way of them becoming successful.”
Another unique aspect of the play is in the second half, when the stage will be lit only by candlelight.
“I think my favourite part is probably the candles in the second half,” MacCarthy said. “The power goes out and a good portion of the second act is all just by candle light. So the candles that we got and tested out work well enough that we can actually do that. I know candles are pretty basic, but I’ve never seen anyone else do that.”
It is also very different from what the students have worked on the last few years. Palliyaguru admits that unlike Sister Act, where she played the lead role, she has had to take her script home every single night to rehearse and perfect the Southern accent require for her character, Amanda. MacCarthy even downloaded music from the 1930s to learn more about the era.
“It is very opposite from what we traditionally do here,” Howard said. “You can hide things in a large production. You can have big special effects, great song numbers, a really killer orchestra. Whereas in a play like this, if the acting isn’t strong, nothing will save it. It all comes down to what’s happening, so their characters need to have strong inner lives and really be living this emotional journey.”
Although it is a little daunting, the students are excited for the challenge.
“I really enjoy playing characters and really getting into the mindset of that character, as well as the play itself,” Hollaus added. “I like how my character, Tom, has conflict with his mother, but it doesn’t necessarily paint either of them as an antagonist. It’s just conflicting ideas and desires in their lives.”
Both Palliyaguru and MacCarthy are also the first recipients of the Mike Roberds Scholarship.
Roberds was a Poppy graduate who went on to have a successful acting career, most notably playing Uncle Fester in The New Addams Family.
Roberds passed away in 2016, and his family created a $10,000 scholarship in his honour, with the idea that each year one student would receive $1,000. For their inaugural year, they decided to hand out two.
Howard says the scholarship is a small testament to the hard work and commitment demonstrated by not only the winners, but all of the students involved in the play.
“I couldn’t be happier to work with this group,” he said.
“They’re just really trusting people. You can have some serious conversations with them. They rehearse their characters without me having to ask them. I couldn’t ask for better people to work with.”
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
■ WHERE: DW Poppy Secondary, 23752 52 Ave. in the drama studio
■ WHEN: May 31 to June 3
■ TICKETS: $5