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New York City Theater

"The Glass Menagerie"
Booth Theater

Ghosts. Needing to be expunged, they haunt the luminous revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” The 1945 autobiographical play, Williams’ first success, begins as Tom Wingfield, the would-be poet who works in a mundane factory job, is literally borne back to the past, pulled there by guilt and longing.

“The play is memory,” he says.

He remembers the St. Louis tenement, where he lived with nagging but loving mother Amanda who berates Tom for his dreams of becoming an author and for spending too much time at the movies. Abandoned by her husband, living in a faded world with faded dreams of her own, Amanda urges Tom to bring home a Gentleman Caller to woo Laura, Tom’s fragile, crippled sister who finds solace in her collection of tiny glass animals.

Agreeing, he asks a fellow worker to dinner. But unexpected consequences lead to the family’s breakup and Tom’s eventual attempts to “find in motion what was lost in space,” forever searching for comfort, trying to leave his sister’s memory behind.

Cherry Jones imbues Amanda with fear and bluster, a towering, majestic, robust figure though one in sore need of support. It’s a strong performance, filled with as much love as anguish, both chilling and chilly.

But it’s Zachary Quinto as Tom who astonishes, who anchors the evening. Heartbreaking yet antic, whether flopping onto the floor like a spoiled child or returning drunk from the movies or imitating his mother’s speech patterns, he underscores the character with touches of homoeroticism (watch his seductive playfulness with Jim, the Gentleman Caller) and ineffable loss. He seems forever caught between death and desire, stillness and danger, even when Laura, trying to conjure away his hurts, waves a “magic scarf” over his prone body or he holds a lit match too long. It’s a Tony worthy turn.

Not least of the production’s virtues is the overwhelming scene between Laura and the Gentleman Caller, acted with great sensitivity but no sentimentality by Celia Keenan-Bolger and Brian J. Smith. All four actors are directed by John Tiffany with throat-catching mystery. Bob Crowley’s skeletal set, surrounded by murky water and punctuated by fire escapes reaching for the sky, isolates the characters between heaven and hell.

“I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” says Tom Wingfield. Fact vs. illusion – an essential American theme – meld into poetic truth in this great American play.

--David A. Rosenberg
Oct. 6, 2013

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