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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Booth


  Zachary Quinto and Cherry Jones / Ph: Michael J. Lutch

Tennessee Williams' autobiographical masterwork The Glass Menagerie gets produced so often by theaters around the country that one might think it would be nearly impossible to make the 1944 classic feel fresh and exciting. But director John Tiffany (Once) and his designers have beautifully and indelibly put their own stamp on Williams' heartbreaking memory play. And the four actors, led by the magnificent Cherry Jones and a devastating Zachary Quinto, do justice to Williams' poetic language, giving definitive performances as Amanda and her son Tom. It's a dazzling production that shouldn't be missed.
Quinto (best known for his TV and film work) makes an ideal Tom, who is of course a thinly veiled version of Williams as a young man. Tom serves as narrator and informs us that we're watching a memory play that is not realistic. It's appropriate, then, that the set is somewhat stylized, with the dowdy interior of the Wingfields' St. Louis apartment surrounded by an inky black liquid. Bob Crowley designed the striking set as well as the costumes (the most memorable of which is Amanda's faded cotillion gown, which looks straight out of Gone With the Wind). Like other Williams leading ladies, Amanda grew up in a genteel Southern home and expected to marry a planter. Instead she fell for a charmer who worked for the phone company and "fell in love with long distances." 
Lines like that one are so familiar to those of us who love The Glass Menagerie that it isn't easy to make them sound like a character is saying them for the first time. But Jones, the greatest American theater actress of her generation, throws herself into the part and makes it her own. She brilliantly and subtly alters her body language and voice whenever Amanda's mood changes. One minute she's a nagging mother, exasperated with Tom and disappointed with his sister Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger), and the next she's an effusive, flirtatious hostess. Keenan-Bolger is wonderful as Laura, who walks with a pronounced limp and is painfully shy. She's as luminous and fragile as the unicorn that is her favorite possession, part of the titular collection of glass figurines that are Laura's refuge.
Tom's escape is the movies, and he goes practically every night to escape the overbearing Amanda. He hates his warehouse job and is equally miserable at home. Quinto captures Tom's sadness and frustration so well that it feels inevitable he will follow in his drunken father's footsteps and abandon Amanda and Laura. No matter how far he runs, though, Tom will remain haunted by his memories of his mother and sister. A fine stage actor, Quinto anchors the production from start to finish. Best of all is his exquisite delivery of the lyrical monologue that closes the play. It will break your heart.
As the Gentleman Caller, a.k.a. Jim, Brian J. Smith is also perfectly cast. A coworker of Tom's, Smith is cheerful, optimistic, and ambitious – pretty much everything Tom isn't. Jones injects some welcome humor as she turns on the Southern charm for Jim in her ridiculous dress. And under Tiffany's sensitive, delicate direction, Keenan-Bolger and Smith do a beautiful job with their scene together. Here and throughout the production, Natasha Katz's lighting is exquisite. Nico Muhly's music also enhances the production. Steven Hoggett (Black Watch and Once) contributed stylized movement that isn't traditional but complements the stylized elements.
Tiffany hasn't just given us a solid staging of a great American play. With his design team and superb cast, he's given us an innovative, heart-rending, flawless production that is sure to linger in the memory of anyone lucky enough to see it.


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