Tennessee Williams has been haunting my dreams this past month. We just reviewed the Yale Rep production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and now “The Glass Menagerie” has opened at the Booth Theatre on Broadway. This latest production comes from the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University and stars Cherry Jones, one of our finest American actresses. She is playing the intense mother Amanda Wingfield, and the cast is completed by Zachary Quinto as the playwright's self, the son and aspiring writer Tom, who is telling the story. Celia Keenan-Bolger as the crippled sister, Laura, and Brian J. Smith, The Gentleman Caller.
I have seen numerous productions of this memory play; one on Broadway in 1983 with the great Jessica Tandy and Amanda Plummer, and another in 2002 at the Hartford Stage directed by Michael Wilson and starring Elizabeth Ashely; I also remember Michael Moriarity, who in 1973 on TV, as the most winning Gentleman Caller won an Emmy. All are shining examples of excellence.
There are obvious pluses in this present production. Cherry Jones gives a sturdy performance capturing the essence of this mother's desperation during the depression years. In today's world we would call her a single mother. Her husband left her for the road, and her two grown children still live with her. Her son, Tom, hates working in a shoe factory, and is planning his escape. Zachary Quinto, making his Broadway debut, is convincing as this son who is harassed beyond patience, and flees every night to the movies; his mother questions his destination and rightly so. Celia Keenan-Bolger is tender and touching as her 26 year old daughter, Laura, a suffering child, handicapped physically and mentally.
Although the fourth character does not appear until the second act, he is all important. The Gentleman Caller seems to be the reality that Amanda is looking for; he is the embodiment of all the suitors who wooed her when she was of marriageable age. His crushing scene with Laura is one the most wonderfully written in all of theater literature. It is a play within a play, signifying everything. Brian J. Smith succeeds as this successful young man, whom Laura adored in high school.
Bob Crowley's set design punctuated by a towering stairway is effective. Natasha Katz's lighting is too dark. Movement by Steven Hoggett is imaginative. A few clever surprises occur. The production has been blessed with many kudos. However, Director John Tiffany, who has won awards for the musical, “Once,”has made certain choices here that are disturbing. The portrait of the father of this family which is supposed to hang on the wall has been eliminated, as is the flashing neon light of the bar outside their claustrophobic apartment. The glass menagerie is reduced to one sparkling animal and so for me there is a lack of magic that has existed on other stages.
“The Glass Menagerie”has been extended through Feb 23.