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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
at the Booth

SOUTHERN BELLE
By BERNARD CARRAGHER

  Zachary Quinto, Cherry Jones and Celia Keenan-Bolger/ Ph: Michael J. Lutch

Tennessee Williams’ first successful play from 1944, The Glass Menagerie, is getting a brilliant revival at the Booth Theatre on West 45th Street. Visionary Scottish director John Tiffany – best known for staging the Iraq-war play Black Watch, and for transforming the independent film Once into a hit Broadway stage musical – imagines The Glass Menagerie for a new generation of theatergoers. He doesn’t alter Williams’ poetic words or reinterpret the play’s basic structure. Instead, he brings a new honesty to the material and offers some unique insights and creative ideas.

The Glass Menagerie is one of the best Williams plays. The playwright writes about himself, his mother, his sister and a gentleman caller who came into their lives back in the Depression days in St. Louis. It is not an easy play to cast, and Tiffany has assembled a gifted ensemble of four actors: the great actress Cherry Jones, a Tony winner for The Heiress and Doubt, plays Amanda Wingfield; Zachary Quinto plays the playwright-narrator, Tom (i.e. Williams); Celia Keenan-Bolger is fine as the desperately shy sister, Laura; and Brian J. Smith is the expansive, optimistic Gentleman Caller who may become Laura’s suitor.

The designers also collaborate in Tiffany's ideas. Bob Crowley, of décor and costumes, floats the Wingfields’ tenement apartment on water, as if the family was isolated from the world. The painterly lighting is by Natasha Katz, with original incidental music by Nico Muhly. A new element Tiffany adds to the proceedings is “movement,” a sort of stylized choreography by Steven Hoggett, which adds another dramatic dimension to the precariousness of the Wingfields’ shaky lives.

You can tell Jones knows and admires Amanda, but unlike other Amandas I have seen, she seems more formidable, less daffy and more controlled. She is a tall presence, with broad shoulders and waved hair of the period. And when she mentions the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), the Conservative women’s organization, you see, even in these hard times, this former Southern belle still hasn’t lost a touch of her richer past life.

Thirteen years ago, her husband, a rogue with a charming smile and a fondness for liquor, abandoned her and the family, and has been heard from once, by a postcard from West Mexico, which had only two words – “Hello. Goodbye.” Or, as Amanda sums him up, he is “a telephone man who fell in love with long distance.” She was left with a son who reads dubious books like D.H. Lawrence, writes poems and hates his job at the local warehouse. He spends his nights at movies or out drinking. Laura is not only physically handicapped, but has retreated to listening to records and playing with her glass menagerie of animals.

All the actors give textured performances, with Jones probably the most emotional, though her Southern accent seems to edge towards her Tennessee roots rather than Amanda’s usual deeper Southern cadences.

Early on we find out that Quinto’s Tom knows he has to get out of this smothering family cocoon and see the world, though he knows that no matter where he goes, Laura and his mother will be with him forever.

The pivotal moment in act two is the scene between the Gentleman Caller and Laura. When she recognizes that he is actually the Jim O’Connor who she worshipped secretly in high school, she faints. But later in the evening, lying on the living room couch, Jim talks gently to Laura, overcomes her shyness, gets her to dance and even gives her a kiss. When he tells her that he in engaged to be married, for a moment Laura seems overwhelmed, but she has picked up from Jim enough courage to be able to be able to take that news grandly.

The Glass Menagerie gave Williams a reputation. Just five years before, the first of his plays, Battle of Angels, had flopped and closed in Boston. He had to leave the theater and do a series of itinerant jobs, even writing movie scripts in Hollywood. Menagerie not only restored him to the theater, it set him up as an American playwright. Two years later he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire, and it became obvious what an extraordinary talent the theater had on its hands. 

 


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