Interview with Daina Robins, director of THE GLASS MENAGERIE

The Hope College Theatre Department opened our first mainstage production of 2018, “The Glass Menagerie”, this past weekend! The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams tells the story of the Wingfield family. Recalled through the eyes of Tom, the memory play shares the story of his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura. As a young girl, Amanda was a fêted debutante with a life of comfort and admiration. Amanda now worries especially about the future of her daughter. As an extremely shy 23-year-old, Laura has yet to find a suitor. Instead, she spends most of her time quietly arranging her glass animals. Tom is a writer who feels trapped in a dead-end warehouse job and dreams of a more adventurous life. As each escapes into a personal “glass menagerie” the play provides a glimpse into a family that is desperate to break free of the burdens of its past and present.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Daina Robins, the director of the production as well as the Chair of the Theatre Department, and ask her a few questions about the process.

Olivia: WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO DIRECT THE GLASS MENAGERIE?
Daina: I never really thought about directing it. Actually, Rich Perez, [associate professor of theatre at Hope] mentioned it, so I can give him credit for planting the idea. Frankly, it had to do with anticipating that he was going to be casting a large number of women in his production this semester. Partly, it was choosing something that I thought would give three undergraduate students a role that comes by once in your lifetime. Of course, this is the case with a lot of plays, but most of them are not as great [as “The Glass Menagerie”]. To have the experience working on such a classic play allows you to appreciate what a lyrical, musical, and tender writer that Williams is. I’ve seen productions of it, there are film productions of it, but working on it allows you to know it in a deeper way. I think a lot of undergraduate students don’t know the play, and a lot of the people in our audience haven’t seen it. And, we haven’t had Jean [Bahle, adjunct assistant professor of theatre at Hope and also playing the role of Amanda] act for us for a number of years…not since 2004, when we did a production of The Golden Ladder in the studio theatre. I’ve directed her a number of times, and I thought it would be a lovely role for her. The students really have a chance to learn from her, and I didn’t feel I was taking a role away from a female student because, between the student-directed productions and Rich’s devised piece, I felt there were enough opportunities for the women who were ready for it. So it’s a lot of balancing what you think the department wants and needs, what we can design, and it’s a beautiful play that again I don’t think many Hope students have seen.

Olivia: YOU’VE DIRECTED GUEST ARTISTS QUITE A FEW TIMES IN THE PAST, EVEN PRETTY RECENTLY ON JANE EYRE THE MUSICAL AND THE TEMPEST. WHAT IS IT LIKE DIRECTING JEAN, WHO IS ONE OF YOUR COLLEAGUES, ALONG WITH YOUR STUDENTS?
Daina: Well, I joke that I’m Jean’s evil twin sister. I met Jean when I first came to Grand Rapids, before I even got the job at Hope. She is such a kind, gentle person, and I’m not [laughs]. But we’ve always kind of really gotten along, and I think we appreciate each other and recognize some kind of simpatico both personality wise and artistically. She’s incredibly easy to direct, because she’s such an open, generous actor. She is used to working with people who are learning, and she’s ahead of the game. She’s a wonderful actor, and she raises the play for everyone else, and she does it in this generous way, you never feel like she’s impatient with others. She’s a sensitive, insightful, and incredibly humble person.

Jean Bahle, playing Amanda Wingfield in THE GLASS MENAGERIE

Olivia: WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT YOU HOPE OUR AUDIENCE IN HOLLAND WILL TAKE AWAY FROM THIS PRODUCTION?
Daina: There’s a whole history surrounding the play, and I think on one hand we’re honoring that. I think sometimes Amanda gets a raw deal. I really empathize with her…she is alone, she’s raised these children on her own, it’s coming out of the Depression…she makes total sense to me. Yes, she has wonderful memories of her youth…but I don’t even blame her for that. I have a lot of sympathy for Amanda, and I think she’s often cast as the domineering mother and I don’t think that’s what she is. Jean as an actor has an incredible ability to complicate or humanize characters that someone else might just put in a “mean” category. I think her portrayal of Amanda also helps us see the humanity of her. And I think the play also tries to help us see that everybody is special in some way, and it’s up to us to find that in each other, rather than just saying ‘well, this person doesn’t fit in.’ Yes, Laura doesn’t fit in, but Tom doesn’t fit in either…so in some ways, as we all struggle to fit in we sometimes take away those edges of ourselves, the things that make us unique. Rather, let’s see every person as an individual, and find what they’re about.

Junior Shanley Smith and sophomore Jacob Starr in THE GLASS MENAGERIE

Remaining performances of The Glass Menagerie will be Thursday-Saturday, February 22-24 at 7:30 p.m in the DeWitt Center main theatre.

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