The Glass Menagerie

‘THE GLASS MENAGERIE’: (left to right) Madison Ferris, Sally Field & Joe Mantello. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

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THE GLASS MENAGERIE
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Sam Gold
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street
(212-239-6200), http://glassmenagerieonbroadway.com/

 

By Scott Harrah

Tennessee Williams is consistently revived on Broadway because he’s one of the greatest American playwrights of all time. His first play is also his most delicate and quite accessible, so even in a minimalistic revival like this, the story is timeless. The dialogue is so seamless and the characters so real that one can almost overlook director Sam Gold’s unorthodox staging, with almost no set and few props. Williams purists, be forewarned: This production isn’t The Glass Menagerie you probably fell in love with in high-school English or drama class.

Mr. Gold first mounted this revival in Amsterdam, and utilitarian, avant-garde retooling of American drama classics is common practice in Europe these days. While this may be great overseas, it does not always work on Broadway. However, Mr. Gold isn’t the first to create a nontraditional staging of Menagerie.  Less than four years ago in fall 2013, director John Tiffany and scenic designer Bob Crowley brought the show from the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Broadway (starring Cherry Jones as Amanda Wingfield) and were nominated for a Tony Award, recreating the 1930s epic of a St. Louis family with a reflecting pool of water and a stylized set featuring a tower of fire escapes (a crucial part of the original script). This revival also does not include—as is often featured in other productions and the script—the large portrait of Mr. Wingfield, the father who left the family years earlier.

The casting here, along with Wojciech Dziedzic’s costuming (which seems more 1950s or 1990s than ’30s), is also atypical. In addition, because there is not much to Andrew Lieberman’s set, other than a dining room table, the black stage often metaphorically swallows the actors whole.

Sally Field is powerful as Amanda Wingfield, the domineering harpy of mother. She gives a new interpretation of Amanda, the faded Southern belle who clings to tradition and unrealistic goals for her children. Whether she’s nagging her children or recalling her glory days in Mississippi, we hear the sounds of desperation in every syllable she utters.

It is great to see Joe Mantello (now better known as a director than actor) as Tom, the protagonist and narrator. He is appropriately nervous and high-strung, arguing with his mother or talking about the drudgery of working in a shoe factory and spending mysterious nights at the movies, but with his gray hair, he seems more like Amanda’s brother or Laura’s father.

Newcomer Madison Ferris (an actress who uses a wheelchair in real life) makes her Broadway debut as Laura, the painfully shy, emotionally and physically challenged character who relates only to her glass animal collection and words of encouragement from her brother and mother.  Ms. Ferris’ Laura is authentic and touching, portraying an about-to-blossom flower when the famous Gentleman Caller (Finn Wittrock) arrives. Mr. Wittrock is amusing and natural as the man Tom invites over for dinner, after Amanda insists on finding a suitor for “Sister.”

It is always a thrill to see Tennessee Williams’ plays revived, but this bare-bones production falls flat in comparison to the excellent John Tiffany-directed version or even the 2004 production with Jessica Lange and Christian Slater. Mr. Gold brings a new spin indeed to the show, but because the set lacks key elements of the show to anchor the story, this Glass Menagerie seems more like a first week’s dress rehearsal than a full-fledged production, lacking the polish needed to make the classic truly shine.

 

Edited by Scott Harrah
Published March 9, 2017
Reviewed at press preview performance on March 4, 2017

 

 

The Glass Menagerie

‘THE GLASS MENAGERIE’: Finn Wittrock & Madison Ferris. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

 

 

The Glass Menagerie

‘THE GLASS MENAGERIE’: Sally Field & Joe Mantello, Photo: Julieta Cervantes

The Glass Menagerie

‘THE GLASS MENAGERIE’: Joe Mantello & Sally Field. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

The Glass Menagerie

‘THE GLASS MENAGERIE’: Joe Mantello & Sally Field. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

The Glass Menagerie

‘THE GLASS MENAGERIE’: Joe Mantello, Sally Field & Finn Wittock. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

 

 

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