Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Glass Menagerie at The Booth Theatre

Tennessee Williams' 1944 play The Glass Menagerie is the very definition of a classic chestnut. After all it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948.  It is very likely that we read the play in high school or college. Esteemed actresses of a certain age via to put their stamp on the overbearing mother Amanda Wingfield. Yet, it is a rare production that succeeds on every level as does the current revival on Broadway. The cast of four is simply perfect. The direction of John Tiffany is sublime. The set, designed along with the costumes by Bob Crawley evoke a dream state.

For The Glass Menagerie is famously a dream play. Tom Wingfield, author and poet,  is haunted by his past. He relates to us the tale of how and why he abandoned his family, his faded belle of a mother, Amanda and his pathologically shy and crippled sister, Laura. It is Laura who truly haunts him. The Wingfield apartment floats on a black sea of stars. The fire escape entrance stretches abstractly to the heavens. The score by Nico Muhly settles our minds into the nostalgic past.  Yet, it is not a happy nostalgia that Tom invites us to revisit with him.

The story that Tom Wingfield relates is set in 1930's St. Louis. Tom is the main breadwinner for his mother and sister, the family having been abandoned by their salesman father years ago. Tom and his sister Laura are adults, yet Laura is incapable of any meaningful socializing with outside people. When Laura fails to tell her mother that she dropped out of business school weeks before, her mother becomes determined to get her daughter a husband. Fatally Amanda, wishing the same popularity with young men that she enjoyed decades before, ignores that such an encounter may emotionally ruin her daughter's life. Tom agrees to invite a co-worker home for dinner. That co-worker's effect on his sister leads to heartbreak for all.

Where does one begin to praise the performances of this quartet of perfectly cast actors. Brian J. Smith, as Jim O'Connor the gentleman caller is charismatic and charming, yet with a sweet gentleness as he weaves his romantic spell on shy Laura. Celia Keenan-Bolger breaks our hearts as we long to comfort her disappointments and grant her the happy ending we know will not occur.  Zachary Quinto gives narrator Tom an intriguingly complex performance. We understand his anger with his situation, his heartbreak for his sister and his needs and wants that he can only express to his mother as his desire to constantly "go to the movies." Cherry Jones is the definitive Amanda Wingfield for this generation. Driving her children to deeper despair by her well-intentioned actions, we still see a mother trying to do her best for her unhappy adult children, never realizing that her choices damage them all forever.

As Laura literally fades from our view and Tom forces the candles to go out, we are left with our own memories. Leaving the Booth Theatre we ponder the tragedy that has unfolded, wishing for a better outcome that we know can never be.

The Glass Menagerie is being performed at the Booth Theatre in New York City through February 23, 2014. For tickets and other performance information please visit

No comments:

Post a Comment