Coffman Directs “The Glass Menagerie”

By Caitlyn Maltese and Molly Igoe
Student Life Editor and News Editor

Before students left for Thanksgiving break, they were invited to see a performance of Tennessee William’s “The Glass Menagerie.” The play ran from Nov. 18-19 and focused on aspiring poet Tom Wingfield who, in presenting his childhood memories, is forced to confront his relationships with his estranged family. “The Glass Menagerie” was the senior directing thesis of Erin Coffman.
“When it came time for thesis proposals, I spent time looking around at other plays, but I was somehow always drawn back to this one, and I just knew that this was the play that I had to do,” Coffman said.
“When Wingfield decides to revisit a pivotal period in his life, he finds that eventually, the ghosts of the past come back to haunt you—no matter how much you try to leave them behind,” reads the introduction on the Washington College website. As students who may have not seen their family in a couple months were preparing to go home, this play had the potential to bring up emotions.
By the morning of the first performance, tickets for the show had already sold out.
She first read the play in a high school English class. “I just felt so connected to Laura I saw in her this kindred spirit, someone who had a hard time adjusting like me, and it became one of my absolute favorite plays,” she said.
“When I would tell people that I was going to be directing “Menagerie,” they’d always tell me about how depressing it was… but there’s so much more to it. There’s humor and betrayal and friendship and compassion and love and anger and anxiety and heartbreak and guilt and true sadness, and it’s so much more complex than just depressing,” Coffman said.
The play starred junior Anna Gjertsen as Amanda Wingfield, sophomore John Leslie as Tom Wingfield, freshman Abbey Kostecki as Laura Wingfield, and senior Caleb Powell as Jim O’Connor. Coffman has acted in many WC plays, however, like most seniors, this is her first time being a director. She found it a very different experience.
“When you’re collaborating with a fellow actor, you’re building a life with them, so to speak… As a director, it felt a little more like I was playing “The Sims.” I had these four people looking at me saying ‘alright, how’s this gonna go?’ It’s incredibly daunting, but it’s so wonderful,” she said.
“You get to take something that was in your head and the actors and designers listen and help make it happen. You have this vision for what you want, and you get to discuss the play with them super in depth, and they offer input and insights that you might not have originally thought of, and you work together to create a whole world. It’s so rewarding to have had that kind of collaboration, and to create something that we were all so proud of.”
Originally when Coffman was first thinking about casting choices, she wanted Gjertsen to be Laura. However, during her audition Kostecki “blew it out of the water.”
“I asked my Stage Manager Abbey Wark to give her sides for Amanda, and she read so beautifully for her. She fit into the character like a white glove on a debutante,” she said. “It seemed so effortless, and once I had the two of them read together I knew it was meant to be that way.”
The actors and actresses were skilled. If one didn’t know Gjertsen, they would have thought that she actually had a southern accent. Kostecki portrayed Laura with emotion and vulnerability.
“With John and Caleb, I did a similar thing, where I had other people in mind after the general auditions, but callbacks came around and they seemed to already understand the characters in some way. The next day came, and they all signed on, and I was so lucky to have had them all. Looking back, I don’t think I could imagine having any other cast,” she said.
Leslie worked hard to portray Tom’s complex and often violent emotions.  As Jim, Powell played his part as the aloof, unaware houseguest.
The show held audiences’ attention for its entire two-hour span; due to the emotional work of the actors.
One of the things that was particularly striking about the production was the manipulation of light and shadow, especially when the designer utilized the spotlight to emphasize Tom’s monologues. Although, this is a traditional theatrical technique it contrasted well with the other scenes. It made the scenes where he spoke directly to the audience more intimate and personable.
This play is often referred to as a memory play. The story is told as Tom Wingfield addresses the audience. As it begins, he makes it clear that this is an account of his memories and there might be bias. A couple times throughout the play, Tom breaks the fourth wall. During these scenes, he is illuminated by a single spotlight.
“I wanted to make it clear that Tom addressing the audience on the staircase was different from him being in the scene and talking to the other characters,” said Brian Klose, lighting director.
Another outstanding element was the sound. The music Coffman and her sound designer Sofia Sidhu picked was soothing and reflected the action.

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