Dylan Costello’s ‘The Glass Protégé’ supposedly lifts the lid on the true relationships behind the scenes of the Hollywood film industry of the late 40s, but anyone with a familiarity with the works of Kenneth Anger, James Ellroy, or the biographies of Monty Clift or Rock Hudson will find little to shock or surprise here. Indeed, is it really any wonder that The Dream Factory fabricated the private lives of its heroes in order to present a unified, glossed-over image?
Patrick Glass (David R Butler)is the young British actor new to Hollywood who quickly falls under the spell of Jackson Harper (Alexander Hulme), his rogue-ish ‘seen it all, done it all’ co-star. This real life passion (and varied rot and ruin) is hidden away from the audience by the studio system, but such a fabricated image has become a cliché in itself, a recognisable parody familiar to movie-watchers and comedy fans. Indeed, writers, actors and directors have always needed to work around the limits of the norm, and Hollywood players have often been more knowing than we give them credit for (note the script history of Wyler’s ‘Ben Hur’ and Stephen Boyd’s portrayal of Messala as an example). Therefore the play really needs to add some new element to the tale, or add some true- to-life depth, but unfortunately the work lacks either of these things.
One of the main shortcomings is its quick shifts between times, back and forth (from the forties to the eighties, when Patrick is old, a father, and attempting to come to terms with what he sees as the great lost love of his life), which gives a jarring, uneven quality to the drama. You could never really get much of a sense of who the actors really are personality-wise, or what they are actually looking for. The camera is never on them long enough, the action is always shifting and moving. The love Patrick presumably feels is never rendered with any complexity or conviction, and comes across more as a youthful infatuation, while Jackson strikes the viewer as just as much of a manipulator as the industry which destroys him. The acting of all cast members is strong enough in itself, but they don’t really have much to work with.
In addition each scene tends to work merely as a set-piece to build up energy and tension, with the ensuing casualty being that each character appears as a mere cardboard cut-out to drive the narrative along. I want to like the play because of the heart behind it and it’s ‘seize the day’ message, and because the intimate staging really did place you ‘on set’ in the action, but left frustrated by the lost potential. I wanted to see the lives lived in the unseen, missing years.
What I most missed was the kind of nostalgic regret present in Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ – and Scorsese’s film adaptation of the book – and some of Henry James later works, the finely examined nuances , full of itch and frustration carried through time, with the realization coming too late that you travelled down the wrong path in life, for a reason you can no longer remember. That softer, more elegiac, honeyed tone is ultimately missing from this work. It strives for it but never quite gets there.