The way Laura makes her entrance in the new Broadway production of "The Glass Menagerie" is jaw-droppingly brilliant. She emerges from out of the middle of a sofa, as if being born anew. It's a tip that a thrilling night at the theater awaits.
There's magic from start to finish at the Booth Theatre, where the new production of Tennessee Williams's great play about regret opened Thursday starring a superb Cherry Jones and a revelatory Zachary Quinto. It's evocative, sometimes surreal and sublimely organic — the perfect package for a play about faded and frayed memories.
Like Laura's dreamlike entrance, the visual tricks include a business card pulled out of Laura's ear by the Gentleman Caller and the waving of a handkerchief over a slumbering Tom as if to help him disappear. Even the glass on the stage is an illusion: it's actually water.
"Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve," the narrator Tom explains at the beginning, his words perfectly fitting for this beautiful, dreamy staging by the American Repertory Theater. The tricks remind you about the unreliability of memory and the games the mind can play.
Director John Tiffany, scenic designer Bob Crowley, lighting designer Natasha Katz and choreographer Steven Hoggett — who all made the musical "Once" so special — have done it again, blurring text and music and movement into a fresh and flowing, intimate staging. There is nothing excess here, no look-at-me pieces to distract.
Jones, already known as a force of theatrical nature, eagerly grasps Amanda Wingfield in all her complexity. Her faded Southern belle is smothering and needy, but also rightfully worried and loving, even if it's all wrapped up in her narcissism. She's no mere tyrant, as other productions are want to make of her.
Quinto as Tom is special — sarcastic and restless, yes, but also frustrated and sweet. (He makes a terrific drunk, too.) The "Star Trek" star mocks his mother with eye rolls and bitterness at times, but he also melts into her during less angry moments. His performance has so many colors, so much feeling, that it's breathtaking. Mother and son are utterly believable as adults who equally frustrate and comfort.
The two others in the cast prove up to these two aces, making it a true ensemble: Celia Keenan-Bolger is a delicate Laura, never overplaying her deformity and prone to staring into nothingness when she shuts down emotionally. Brian J. Smith as the Gentleman Caller is funny and warm and wonderfully lost.
The action takes place on Crowley's evocative set, with a fire escape that disappears into the roof and the stage made of interlocking wooden platforms above still water, serving like islands on a sea of memory. There is plenty of music, including original pieces by Nico Muhly, who relies on violins, as the text suggests. Katz's lighting is moody and dim, like a distant remembrance, only sparkling to life when a beam hits a glass unicorn.
And Hoggett has gotten his actors to enter and exit scenes in movements that are sometimes jerky or exaggerated, like watching warped film. Tom, for instance, basically falls backward into the play's opening scene, as if tumbling into the past. Another powerful moment has Laura and her mother endlessly setting the table, their hands fluttering as if in a montage of dozens of meals. Jones adds a shaky hand to hint at her increasing infirmity, justifying her worry of the future.
It's all heady stuff and an alchemy that must be experienced. All the parts fit — from the moody design to the stirring music and the push-and-pull of these characters — and all of it breathes life into a 70-year-old play. It is, like the work itself, unforgettable.
No ifs, ands or buts — “The Glass Menagerie” should break your heart.
The new Broadway revival starring Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto cracks it wide open. The striking production also opens your eyes to fresh insights in Tennessee Williams’ mid-’40s breakthrough.
It’s a remarkable achievement, considering how familiar we’ve become with the drama of overbearing Amanda Wingfield, her fragile daughter, Laura, and restless son, Tom.
When the play begins, Tom, like his father, has already deserted the women in his life. In this vision, Tom revisits his younger self with a simple, meaningful movement — taking a giant, unsteady step backward into the past.
Tom and his family are on the brink. In this thoughtful staging seen last winter at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., director John Tiffany (“Once,” “Black Watch”) places the Wingfields on the edge of an abyss. The home floats over blackness.
Cramped rooms rest at odd angles in Bob Crowley’s stylized set. It’s as though the floorboards are warped by dashed hopes. Anxieties are so rampant they’ve even been absorbed by the few sticks of furniture. Williams used that idea in the short story “The Man in the Overstuffed Chair.” Tiffany ingeniously summons that notion in a haunting visual that reminds us how the doomed Laura is always in Tom’s mind.
The other evocative set piece is a tower of fire escapes ascending high into the heavens. Not that the Wingfields ever would notice. They’re caught up in a ritualistic grind, neatly underscored by Steven Hoggett’s choreographed motions. The Wingfields’ gaze, like their psyches, leans constantly downward.
In keeping with the strong, spare scenery, performances are lean and natural. Jones, a stage great who’s won Tonys for “The Heiress” and “Doubt,” endows Amanda with potent vitality. She can lose herself in the sweet-scented memories of jonquils and gentility, but she’s no shrinking violet. She’s fiercely maternal.
Quinto, of the “Star Trek” reboot, streaks Tom, the stand-in for Williams, with exasperation and surliness. His cruel abandonment of his family in the dark is all the more credible.
As the delicate Laura, Celia Keenan-Bolger draws you in with her transparent honesty. A simple line (“Mother, you’ve made me so nervous”) or lifting a typewriter shows how everything is a chore and painful. She has lovely chemistry with Brian J. Smith, who brings easygoing charm as Jim, the gentleman caller.
The fall Broadway season has just begun. This shattering and shimmering “Glass Menagerie” is the first must-see.
This revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” arrives on Broadway from Cambridge, Mass., with the excitement usually reserved for “Breaking Bad” and cronuts: It’s genius! You need it!
Well, not quite.
This is a fine evening at the theater, not a divine revelation. The show is a good take on Williams’ memory play, and Zachary Quinto and Cherry Jones offer interesting spins on familiar characters — even if Jones’ execution doesn’t match her concept of the role.
Her character, Amanda Wingfield, is one of the great over-the-top stage mothers, the nonsinging version of Mama Rose from “Gypsy.” A former Southern belle fallen on hard times in 1930s St. Louis, Amanda’s dead set on finding a husband for her lame, pathologically shy daughter, Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger).
Breaking from the usual portrayal as a domineering, manipulative egomaniac, Jones’ Amanda is largely sympathetic. She’s pushy but clearly means well — she just wants to secure a safe future for Laura, whose mental fragility prevents her from holding a job.
We know all this because Jones, the Tony-winning star of “The Heiress” and “Doubt,” acts with a capital A. You always see the cogs whirring behind her affected performance. Boy, this pretending thing is a lot of work!
Quinto (TV’s “American Horror Story,” Spock in the “Star Trek” reboots) fares better with Tom, Amanda’s son and the play’s narrator. Deftly walking the thin line between angry frustration and subtle camp mannerisms, his Tom — the playwright’s stand-in — is likely gay, tomcatting in bars when he’s meant to be at the movies.
Brian J. Smith is just as effective as the gentleman caller, a good ol’ boy who’s unwittingly set up on a date with Laura. His kindness toward her is heartbreaking, and their scene together is the most powerful of the show. Never mind that of Laura’s beloved collection of glass animals, we see only a unicorn — a heavy-handed way to tell us she’s a lonely oddity.
Yet rather than any individual performance, what sticks with you is the overall mood of the piece created by director John Tiffany and his team — which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s seen Tiffany’s musical “Once.”
Bob Crowley’s set is dominated by two striking elements. One is a fire escape that tapers up into the air, as if disappearing into infinity — though the effect is ruined if you sit in the back of the orchestra.
The other is a moat of black water around the stage, turning the Wingfields’ apartment into a little island cut off from the mean outside world.
The ghostly atmosphere is compounded by lighting designer Natasha Katz’s perpetual dusk, Nico Muhly’s eerie original score and Steven Hoggett’s solemn choreographing of a kitchen routine. Taken together, they match Williams’ melancholy poetry on a gut level. No wonder this fire escape leads nowhere.
How can something be this delicate and this strong, so elusive and yet so tenacious? That question radiates from John Tiffany’s stunning production of Tennessee Williams’s “Glass Menagerie,” which opened on Thursday night at the Booth Theater and promises to be the most revealing revival of a cornerstone classic for many a year to come.
More than any interpretation I’ve seen of the 1944 drama that made Williams’s name, this “Menagerie” — which stars Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto in career-defining performances — finds the brute force in a play often described, a bit condescendingly, as lyrical, wispy, elegiac. Yes, the tapered fingers of poetry shape “The Glass Menagerie.” But when these fingers curl into a fist — and they do so again and again in this production, before you quite realize it — be prepared to have the breath knocked out of you.
You’re already familiar with the feeling of that blow. It’s what everyone experiences when a sound or an image from the past suddenly looms larger than the present, and, whether happy or sad, is almost too hurtful to be borne. As Tom (Mr. Quinto), the work’s narrator, looking back on a shattering chapter in his family’s life, states simply, “This play is memory.”
Williams always insisted that memory was not only the subject of “Menagerie” but also its form. But I have never before seen a production that captures so completely or originally the idea of memory as this play’s driving dynamic, of recollection as a tyrannical, exorcism-proof ghost waiting to grab you by the ankle.
You could even call memory the protagonist here: It’s what causes Tom to stumble into the past and back into the story that he always hates to tell but has to. That stumble has been given physical reality, as a seemingly involuntary lurch. It — along with the heart-stoppingly staged moment in which a girl from long ago stakes her claim on Tom’s thoughts — occurs in the opening minutes of the production, one of many resonant choreographic details by Steven Hoggett, the show’s movement director. (Mr. Tiffany and Mr. Hoggett, collaborators on the Tony-winning “Once,” proved themselves masters of recapturing time in the Scottish drama “Black Watch.”)
From that moment, no one is on terra firma — not Tom, not the family he summons in a vision of its last weeks together in the cramped St. Louis digs they share at the height of the Great Depression, and certainly not we, the theatergoers. The designer Bob Crowley, artfully aided by Natasha Katz (lighting), Clive Goodwin (sound) and Nico Muhly (music), has summoned into being a world that seems to float amid shadowy seas.
Pools of dark, viscous liquid separate the stage from the audience. The shabby St. Louis apartment inhabited by the Wingfields — Tom; his mother, Amanda (Ms. Jones); and his sister, Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger) — is rendered in ways both skeletal and oddly specific. It’s a style that suggests how memory seldom paints a complete portrait of the places you have known, but focuses instead on objects of totemic significance, or if you will (Tom will), symbols. Memory turns us all into poets.
Don’t think, though, that this is a world seen through softening, forgiving gauze. As Tom recalls his encounters with the mother and sister he loathes and loves with all his confused heart, they acquire a heightened brightness that scalds.
When I first saw this production in February, at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., the play’s startling atmospherics were all in place, and the acting already so fine, that I presumed that revisiting “Menagerie” would be like calling on an old acquaintance. I hadn’t accounted for the ways in which deeply gifted stage artists can enrich their performances over time.
The conceptual core of their interpretations remains the same. But they have been honed to an emotional sharpness that kept me in tears through much of the first act. (By the devastating second act, I was beyond tears.) Ms. Jones, a two-time Tony winner, gave a wonderful performance in Cambridge. What she’s doing now, though, is one for the ages, an Amanda that may someday be spoken of with the awe that surrounds Laurette Taylor’s creation of the part nearly 70 years ago.
A onetime Southern belle, long ago abandoned by her husband, the father of her children, Amanda is a classic Williams woman, tethered to a beautiful past and struggling to stay on her feet in an ugly present. You can see why pretty much every formidable actress of a certain age has wanted to have a go at her. The list of those I’ve seen, onstage and on screen, includes Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris, Joanne Woodward, Katharine Hepburn, Sally Field and Jessica Lange.
Some of them, though fewer than you would think, were good. Ms. Jones is great. She gives the foolish, garrulous Amanda — forever nagging her damaged children to be successes and nattering about the social triumphs of her youth — a towering, pathos-steeped gallantry. She is big because the world shrank on her, and she keeps trying to pretend that it hasn’t, even when she’s reduced to selling magazine subscriptions on the phone.
Dressed in the cotillion gown of her youth for the fabled “Gentleman Caller” scene, she keeps flying into the empyrean of the past and then falling to the hard earth of the present. Just listen to how she signals this descent in the drop of her voice.
Her tiny world is an insular, fatally divided kingdom of three, comprising Amanda; the restless Tom, a poet trapped in a dead-end warehouse job; and the agoraphobic, disabled Laura, who exists obdurately in an other-world populated by the little glass animals of the title.
Despite the unending friction among these desperate souls, I believed in them as a painfully cohesive unit. And for the first time, I sensed a grudging, loving rapport between Tom and Amanda. (They almost flirt when they scrap.) And our awareness of how they’re bonded by their protectiveness of Laura, played with a wondrously centered clarity by Ms. Keenan-Bolger, has never been more acute.
Nor has the sense of the self-contained, self-mythologizing planet on which this family (like all families) lives. It seems so right when Tom describes a friend from work he invites for dinner, at his mother’s insistence, as “an emissary from a world we were somehow set apart from.” It’s a lonely planet, and there are heartbreaking, out-of-time moments when each of the Wingfields stands at the edge of the stage in the shadows, groping for a supporting arm that is never there.
Brian J. Smith plays the emissary, whose glory days as a high school hero are behind him, in a performance that more than holds its own amid the histrionics of the Wingfields. He makes it clear that while this Gentleman Caller may hail from the bustling land of reality, he, too, seesaws between highs of illusion and the harshness of life as it is. And his scene alone with Laura — in which he gives her and himself a lecture on becoming a positive person — may be the best version of it we’ll ever see.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about this production, though, is how thoroughly it makes us understand that Tom is the center, nay the author, of “The Glass Menagerie.” Mr. Quinto (best known as Mr. Spock in the current “Star Trek” movie franchise) plays Tom with more than a touch of the author who conceived him. This kinetically charged, purple-prose-spouting Tom is an angry young man who, in his way, is as self-dramatizing as Amanda and as much of an outcast as Laura. No wonder he feels he has to run away; at home, there are too many mirrors.
He doesn’t run away, though, no matter how far he travels. The faces of Amanda, frozen in affronted affection, and of Laura, in isolating self-communion, will glow in a reproachful eternity. This production makes clear that “The Glass Menagerie” belongs on the same exclusive shelf as “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “Death of a Salesman” and Williams’s own “Streetcar Named Desire.” It is not a lovely little memory play; it’s a great memory tragedy.
People actually seem to hang there on the stage, as selective and eccentric as memory, in director John Tiffany's unsettling, viscerally powerful revival of Tennessee Williams' 1944 masterwork, "The Glass Menagerie."
As always, the drama is identified as a memory play in the opening monologue by Tom, the playwright's semi-autobiographical stand-in. But this time, the storytelling has the surreal, otherworldly quality of a dream.
For example, after his scene-setting speech, Tom seems to be blown physically backward into the parlor, as though sucked back in time, to relive the stifling existence in the Depression-era St. Louis flat where his disappointed mother Amanda and crippled sister Laura hover in the golden light and scary darkness of Bob Crowley's set. Laura magically appears from inside the sofa. Amanda is summoned from behind a cupboard.
What could be ridiculous and mannered is, instead, bold and terrifically effective in this willful but fascinating vision by Tiffany and much of the team responsible for the enchanting Tony-winning "Once."
It helps that Zachary Quinto portrays Tom with the wary, restless humanity of a trapped poet, while Cherry Jones carves out a less delusional, more sturdy Amanda with kaleidoscopic layers of hope and bile. This is not an Amanda who breaks the heart with what she has lost by her own bad choices. Her pain has less of the narcissism and coquetry we expect in Amanda, and more of a nagging agony for the children she is incapable of helping.
We may certainly ask why Tom's drawl is as thick as that of his mother, who moved to Missouri from the South years earlier. We also wish for more relationship between Tom and his sister Laura, and between Laura and the mother who pushes Tom into bringing home a "gentleman caller" (Brian J. Smith) to save the fragile girl.
Instead, this is Tom's play, as it is Tom's memory, an interpretation that marginalizes the impact of Celia Keenan-Bolger's delicately breakable Laura, whose obsession with glass animals should be the metaphor of the play.
On the other hand, Tom does get to imagine her in an improbably fetching Tinker Bell dress. Every so often, sad reality is broken with magically surreal gestures -- Laura's fists seem to dance toward one another, Tom's fingers do a nervous jitterbug behind his back. A sliver of moon is hung in the orchestra pit and not the sky. Memories, especially ones this indelible, refuse to be ordinary.
Amanda Wingfield has once again been let loose on Broadway. But don't worry, she won't scare you this time.
The overbearing matriarch in Tennessee Williams' semi-autobiographical classic The Glass Menagerie can, in the wrong hands, emerge as something of a monster. But as played by Cherry Jones in the magnificent and harrowing new revival (**** out of four) that opened Thursday at the Booth Theatre, she is most haunting for her robust but fragile humanity.
Her grown children — crippled, desperately shy Laura and Tom, an aspiring poet who supports them with mind-numbing factory work while longing to escape — may have suffered at her domineering hands. But Amanda never meant to oppress them, any more than she chose to be abandoned by their father years before. She is, she admits, "bewildered by life."
Jones, one of the greatest stage actresses alive, conveys this in a performance that will amaze even her most ardent admirers in its depth and compassion. Her Amanda is warm and funny and, without question, dedicated to her offspring; watching Jones scrunch her wonderfully expressive face into a broad grin when she is happy for Tom or Laura, you'll bathe in Amanda's maternal pleasure.
When Amanda's children invariably disappoint her, that face drops, along with Jones' supple voice and body language, to convey a pure anguish that no level of histrionics could summon.
This Menagerie — an American Repertory Theater production, originally staged in Cambridge, Mass., earlier this year — is by no means Jones' triumph alone. The four-person cast is as meticulously assembled as the titular collection of tiny glass animals that is Laura's most cherished possession. Director John Tiffany guides the players with sensitivity and vigor, underscoring both the dreamy, surreal aspects of Williams' "memory play" and the brutal reality that the characters seem determined to shut out.
Celia Keenan-Bolger brings an exquisite physical and vocal delicacy to Laura. Though authentically awkward, her gestures have a certain melancholy grace — particularly between scenes, when choreographer Steven Hoggett provides gentle, telling movement that often puts her in the spotlight. We sense Laura's thirst for connection and dignity, which makes her inability to grasp either all the more wrenching.
As Tom, the family member most in touch with the outside world and also the narrator (describing a past based on the playwright's), Zachary Quinto moves deftly from recollection to confrontation, from dry asides to heated outbursts. A perfectly cast Brian J. Smith completes the company as the affable but mysterious "Gentleman Caller" whose meeting with Laura sends the play hurtling toward its climax.
For those unfamiliar with the ending, suffice it to say that the dimly lit fire escape featured in Bob Crowley's stark set design doesn't lead Laura, or her mother, to a better place. But however disturbing, this radiant Menagerie will also leave a glow in your heart.
A commercial transfer of the American Repertory Theater’s revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” which premiered earlier this year Cambridge, Mass., opened on Broadway Sept. 26. The following is Frank Rizzo’s review of the A.R.T. engagement, with credits updated to reflect changes for the New York run.
Memory floats on a giant plane of regret in American Repertory Theater’s epic and intimate production of “The Glass Menagerie,” trapped forever between a shimmering black sea and an endless void that even an infinite fire escape can’t reach. Tennessee Williams’ world of poetry and prose is presented gracefully, even wondrously, in this distinctive production — helmed by John Tiffany (“Once”) and starring Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto — that no doubt will have Gotham’s gentlemen and women coming to call, even if sometimes it’s just awkward and disconnected.
The cramped St. Louis apartment ruled by Jones’ resilient Amanda Wingfield may have been claustrophobic in reality but the haunted memory of it in the mind of her son Tom (Quinto) looms large as he conjures just the essentials — a table, a screen, a hat rack, a couch — and places them in a great limbo of a landscape as he tries to exorcise the past.
Designer Bob Crowley gets high marks for creating a stunning big picture but misses on some of the details, including a misplaced moon, a downstairs staircase and some odd costume choices.
There are moments of lyricism and private gazes, but what gives this distant dream a real-world ache are the quartet of honest performances that bring Williams’ lost and lonely souls to life.
Jones’ take on the iconic character of Amanda is natural, grounded and sympathetically drawn. Though the humor is toned down a few notches, Amanda’s humanity is clear and her motivations purposeful. This is an Amanda whose chatter and flutters are not those of a neurotic nag, but are rather cultural quirks mixed with a mother’s desperate need to inspire, instruct and fortify her children for a world that can be cruel to those who are damaged or different.
Jones’ most effective moment comes when Amanda becomes speechless, halting her upbeat gab suddenly to recall the time she met her future ne’er-do-well husband. Through her eyes and body language, an entire memory play of her own unfolds in seconds, one that is full of love, hope and ultimately hurt.
Quinto’s Tom, too, reveals his character through the simplest of looks, gestures and movements (some staged by choreographer Steven Hoggett). He’s the picture of the sensitive soul simmering with secrets as he becomes increasingly conflicted by desire, dreams and duty. He also brings a gentle humor as a son who has navigated familial oppression and submission with a survivalist’s wit and resignation.
Celia Keegan-Bolger’s Laura is on the edge of the abyss, too, seeing herself as an outcast because of her physical limits. Perhaps because “Menagerie” is Tom’s memory play and he barely sees her handicap, Laura’s physical limits in this production are, oddly, nearly undetectable.
Not so the emotional ones. With eyes wide open as she takes in all the family’s woes, she trembles in fear of the future, simply aching to disappear — which she does in one of the production’s most striking visual effects.
As the Gentleman Caller, Brian J. Smith brings a ray of hope into the Wingfield home, if only for a moment, in a beautifully, simply staged candlelight scene with Laura. Smith subtly shows a more complex heart beneath surface charm and bravado.