Zachary Quinto, Cherry Jones, Brian J. Smith, and Celia Keenan-Bolger in THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Photo by Michael J. Lutch.
BOTTOM LINE: A stunning revival of an American classic, meticulously conceived and performed.
Tennessee Williams is inarguably a figurehead of American drama, someone we look to when we consider the country's canon. His work is frequently revived, and it's no surprise that The Glass Menagerie makes its way back to Broadway for the sixth time since it premiered in 1945. What makes this production so defining, so necessary even, is its ability to make the work timely without contemporizing it or really changing anything at all. Director John Tiffany takes a well-known, much adored play, and instead of building it up for a 21st century audience, does the opposite: he almost deconstructs it, so that the cast and the text speak for themselves.
For those who have forgotten their high school required reading, The Glass Menagerie follows the Wingfield family: Tom (Zachary Quinto), the grown son; Laura (Celia Keenan Bolger), the grown daughter; and Amanda (Cherry Jones), their mother. Tom narrates the tale, and also plays a central role: as a character within the story he is a disgruntled man ready to move away from his codependent family. Laura is painfully shy, and a limp has made her somewhat of an invalid. And Amanda has delusions of grandeur when it comes to her clan and their future. When Jim (Brian J. Smith), AKA The Gentleman Caller, comes to dinner, Amanda is hopeful that Jim and Laura will fall in love and get married.
Amanda Wingfield is a fan-favorite literary matriarch, like Mama Rose without the show biz. Cherry Jones brings her to life in a riveting way. No less melodramatic than is expected of a Williams protagonist, Ms. Jones finds a finely-tuned giddiness that almost evokes Honey Boo Boo -- a hopped-up show-off with complete, unadulterated sincerity. Brazenly honest and appropriately pitiful, it's really a remarkable performance.
The cast is wonderful, with each actor offering a nuanced and captivating interpretation of their well-known characters. And the show itself is so cohesive that everyone is in complete synchronicity. There is a clearly understood vision behind this revival, and everyone involved is on the same page.
John Tiffany's direction includes a physical element, where occasionally the characters break into gestural movement that enhances the mood (the movement is by Steven Hoggett, Tiffany's collaborator on the Broadway musical Once). A minimal set and few props let the performances shine, and the physicality contributes to the overall tone of a scene or moment. Subtle yet effective elements are what brings this revival to life -- the crystal-clear reflective floor, the gestural sequence as it's time to sit down for dinner -- without any bells or whistles, this production finds magic in choice moments of beauty.
Anyone with an interest in literature, theatre, or frankly art in general will find much to admire within The Glass Menagerie. A beautiful presentation with first-rate talent brings Williams' beloved tale back to life in a production worthy of its accolades.
(The Glass Menagerie plays at The Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street, through February 23, 2013. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 7PM; Thursdays at 7PM; Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $42-$147 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250. For more show info visit theglassmenageriebroadway.com.)