Everyone who takes Beginning Acting at Ohio Wesleyan University is assigned a scene from The Glass Menagerie. I was given the scene between Tom and his mother, Amanda, the morning after their confrontation. Four years earlier, in a summer theatre workshop, I had performed the preceding confrontation. I knew the play and the circumstances, so when my professor said to reread it anyway, I went on Facebook instead.
The first time I read it I was fifteen and focused almost exclusively on Tom. He was the showy role I wanted to play. I barely paid attention to his sister, Laura. In fact, the day after I’d opted not to reread the play for Beginning Acting, I asked a question in class about Laura’s use of the word “cripple” that all but proved I hadn’t done my homework.
By the time we presented our first showings, I still hadn’t reread the play. I did a serviceable job with my scene, but when Kristen and Ian, two of my closest friends, started to perform Laura’s scene with Jim from the second act, I was knocked out.
Kristen and Ian did a beautiful job. I believed they were those characters, I believed they were falling for each other, and for the first time I was really hearing the text of that scene.
I’d thought I identified with only Tom. Laura is shy and I’m not shy, so how could I possibly identify with her? But in this scene, to which I’d never paid close attention, Laura opens up about her self-consciousness. She has an unspecified leg defect. I have cerebral palsy. She talks about things I’d never talked about, yet I had thought those things and felt those things.
Reminiscing about high school with Jim, a boy she has had a crush on for years, she says, “I had that brace on my leg—it clumped so loud!” I’ve worn leg braces all life. They don’t clump like Laura’s, but my walker is certainly loud enough to bring me unwanted attention.
“Everybody was seated before I came in,” Laura says. “I had to walk in front of all those people. My seat was in the back row. I had to go clumping all the way up the aisle with everyone watching!” I feel this way every time I arrive late to class, which is often. I wish my walker had a mute button.
That afternoon in 008, the basement rehearsal room of Ohio Wesleyan’s Chappelear Drama Center, I cried quietly watching Kristen and Ian. Then I went home and reread the play, as I should have two weeks earlier, and began to understand the heartbreak of the entire piece.
Watching John Tiffany’s masterful Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie with my parents, I kept thinking of my Beginning Acting class, my friends Ian and Kristen, and the moment I realized how deeply I connected with Laura.
I could not stop crying.
My mom tried to quiet me down. “It’s okay,” she said, holding my hand.
Laura and Jim started dancing and I was inconsolable.
Very few men have danced with me.
Very few people have danced with me in such a way that makes me forget I can’t really dance. A few have succeeded, and afterward I’ve thanked them. I don’t know if they’ve understood the depth of my gratitude.
As Jim, Brian J. Smith was everything I wish for in a man, in a dance partner. He didn’t just see beyond the disability; he acknowledged and embraced it but minimized its significance.
As Laura, Celia Kennan-Bolger embodied my inner demons, yet for an instant when she was dancing, those demons vanished from her beautiful face.
After they dance, Jim tells Laura she is pretty. Then Jim kisses Laura. And then Jim is gone.
When Tom leaves at the end of the play, Laura is left with her mother, alone.
“Blow out your candles, Laura ... And so goodbye,” Tom says.
Waiting for a table at a restaurant after the show, my mom asked, “Were you crying because she reminds you of yourself?”
“That’s part of it, yes,” I said.
“You’ll find someone,” Mom said. “It will happen.”
“I keep trying, but I just end up chasing after guys who aren’t interested in me.”
"Don’t chase after any guy,” Dad said. “You’re too important for that."
At the end of Act I, Amanda tells Laura to make a wish on the moon, for happiness and good fortune.
On the flight home to Cleveland, just as the sun finished setting, I saw a little silver slipper of a moon in the sky, and I made a wish too.