Broadway Review - The Glass Menagerie
One of the hottest tickets on Broadway this fall is the American Repertory Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. A production that originated in Boston earlier this year, it has received unanimously great reviews.
The Glass Menagerie was originally produced in Chicago in 1944 and quickly gained notoriety that brought it to Broadway. The Glass Menagerie was Williams’ first big hit. The original production starred Laurette Taylor as Amanda Wingfield in a performance that is heralded as one of the greatest ever on the American Stage. Many great American actresses have tackled this iconic Williams role since. They include such formidable thespians as Gertrude Lawrence, Katharine Hepburn, Joanne Woodward, Maureen Stapleton and Jessica Lange. But none of them have conjured up the idolatry language of the late Ms. Taylor, until now. The great Cherry Jones seems to have finally broken the Amanda Wingfield glass ceiling established so long ago. Ms. Jones gives a spectacular, flawless and unforgettable performance as Amanda in this stunning new production directed by John Tiffany. It is difficult to describe the complexity, humanity and vulnerability of her portrayal. As with all Williams’ women there is an element of theatricality and “largeness” to Amanda’s personality. It is a role that is often played as a shrill harpy. Actresses make the mistake of being over the top when playing Amanda. They come across as totally deluded, angry, relentlessly domineering, or a helpless victim. This is not the case with Ms. Jones, who makes Amanda a living breathing dignified woman, who despite her desperation and disappointments never becomes pitiable. It is a tour-de-force.
Zachary Quinto, the new Mr. Spock in the current Star Trek movies, plays Tom Wingfield, the restless son, whose dreams of a writing life or any kind of life are slowly disappearing in his grueling, tedious job at a shoe factory. He must work to support his mother and disabled sister Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger) because his father was a telephone man who fell in love with long distance and left sixteen years ago. Quinto has received mostly glowing reviews, but there are some people who are definitely picking at his performance. His accent seems the bane of contention for many, while others feel he isn’t able to carry off the poetry of Williams’ dialogue, especially in the gorgeously written monologues. I think Quinto is very good and I like what he has brought to the role: passion, vulnerability, warmth, and a fluid and relaxed body language that convincingly convey that Tom knows intimately and cares about his mother and sister a great deal. Sometimes Tom is played aloof, bitter and too much of a narrator who isn’t really part of the story. Quinto’s scenes with Jones are especially well played. An actress of her caliber will naturally bring out the best in other actors, and their relationship feels real; full of humor, tension and familial loyalty.
Celia Keenan-Bolger has the difficult role of Laura, the delicate and painfully shy disabled daughter. An archetypical Williams’ character Laura is so overwhelmed by the world that it is painful for her to just interact with anyone but her mother and brother. A failure at everything she has tried, including business school, Laura lives in a lonely, fantasy world of her glass animal collection and Vitrola. Bolger gives a compassionate, controlled performance. She uses her body language effectively, as if it is a physical manifestation of her inner stunted emotionalism.
Brian J. Smith gives a credible and warm performance as the gentleman caller, a part that sometimes is a throw-away role. Smith, like the rest of the talented cast members, brings undeniable humanity and realism to a role in a play that announces at the very beginning at that isn’t realistic at all. Smith is charming and so likeable that you understand why Laura and Amanda feel this might be Laura’s last chance. But like all Williams’ characters he is flawed and hasn’t exactly gotten what he wants out of life either. This somehow makes his folly while dealing with Laura not only believable, but forgivable.
This Glass Menagerie now playing on Broadway at the Booth Theatre is a powerful theatrical experience. Everything works together in Tiffany’s interpretation; the gorgeous, “suspended” set by Bob Crowley and the exquisite lighting design by Natasha Katz enhance his vision perfectly. This is Williams’ most intimate play and the artists involved in this minimalist production understand this. Frequently called a memory play, this Menagerie is like a dream: personal, evocative and powerful.
In my twenty years of reviewing theater, I have seen many bad productions of Williams’ masterpieces, thankfully and gleefully, I say, this is not one of them. This is one of the best I have ever seen.