New York City Theater
"The Glass Menagerie"
Booth Theatre, Broadway
Now on Broadway in an exquisite, heart-breaking production is Tennessee Williams’ classic, “The Glass Menagerie.” This particular interpretation, under John Tiffany’s direction, comes across as ethereal, dreamlike. With this fragile quality, one almost expects the drama itself to shatter, replicating the fate of its heroine’s tiny glass unicorn.
“The Glass Menagerie,”as we know, is the playwright’s own memory piece, taking us through those early years lived out with his beloved sister and his overbearing mother. (Here is the best-known of all dysfunctional families and if such a background can produce a Tennessee Williams, perhaps such backgrounds are to be desired.)
Unrealistic expectations and bitter disappointments are the underlying themes. Amanda, the mother, clings to her past--a golden age of the South, in her view, a time when she had numerous suitors (or rather “gentlemen callers”). Imposing such values on her two offspring, each one suffers as a result. Her daughter Laura, crushed by her mother’s expectations, retreats from the world. And her son Tom (the playwright himself) is embittered, cynical, and longing to escape (a route he eventually takes). Laura, slightly crippled and painfully shy, lives for her collection of tiny glass animals (a perfect metaphor for Laura herself).
Amanda is eager for Laura to have “gentlemen callers.” Accordingly, she pushes her son Tom (the playwright himself) to invite a fellow worker to dinner. Tom, at the time, has a lowly job in a shoe factory. When Tom finally accedes, Amanda pins all hopes on the expected dinner guest and prepares her home and daughter accordingly.
Every performance is right on target. Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura manages to convey a troubled inner world with every gesture, every facial expression. Her power of understatement is remarkable. And Zachary Quinto as Tom explodes on stage with world-weary cynicism. Which brings us to the remarkable Cherry Jones as the mother Amanda. Physically, Jones presents an unlikely appearance, nothing likely the deadly little birdlike woman one might expect. She clumps about the stage, a heavy woman with swollen ankles. Yet she manages to create an Amanda with her own brand of poison Jones’ bouts with Quinto are remarkable, constantly raising the ante as the mother and son play out their love-hate relationship.
Finally Brian J. Smith comes into the scene as the “gentleman caller.” Naïve, simple, well-meaning, he offers a perfect antidote to the Winfields and their views. His lovely exchange with Laura brings a new note to the proceedings, a new message of hope.
In all, here is a “Glass Menageries” unique unto itself and well able to hold its place in the pantheon of earlier and current productions.
-- Irene Backalenick
January 22, 2014