After all these years, doesn’t poor Laura Wingfield deserve a happy ending? Just think of the thousands of Broadway matinees and community-theater evenings and international productions that end with her bereft of even a broken unicorn. But before Tennessee Williams arrived at The Glass Menagerie, he attempted the same tale as a comic one-act called The Pretty Trap, now being produced by Cause Célèbre on the occasion of Williams’s centenary. Unlike the melancholy finish of The Glass Menagerie, The Pretty Trap closes with Laura and her gentleman caller sauntering off into the moonlight.
It’s a fine thing to see Laura enjoy a night out, but the play remains little more than a 45-minute curio. The working manuscripts for The Glass Menagerie, held at university libraries in Texas and Virginia, run to hundreds and hundreds of pages, revealing how Williams honed his voice. The Pretty Trap provides a particular illustration. Many of the lines from the finished play appear here, such as the description of the absent father as “a telephone man who fell in love with long distance,” a phrase Williams enjoyed so much that The Pretty Trap trots it out twice. (Set designer Ray Klausen employs a picture of Williams as the deadbeat’s portrait, which seems unkind.) But the tenor of this one-act is casual, almost blithe. It has a measure of The Glass Menagerie‘s melancholy, but none of its rage.
The Pretty Trap takes place in the Wingfield’s apartment, in which Amanda (Katharine Houghton) flutters and Laura (Nisi Sturgis) sulks in anticipation of the arrival of Tom (Loren Dunn) and his friend Jim (Robert Eli). In this version, Laura is crippled only by shyness, and the relationship between Amanda and her children, though strained, remains affectionate. Under Antony Marsellis’s direction, Houghton has a wonderful time, chirping and snapping and shaking her strawberry locks as she whirls about the room. But this effortful performance occurs in something of a vacuum. Williams hasn’t yet fleshed out Tom and Laura (Jim is better drawn), and Dunn and Sturgis can’t fill in the gaps. As for the lighter tone, it only renders the piece more slight. Without The Glass Menagerie‘s violent, hopeless unhappiness, little remains but an awkward dinner party.