This was my very first stage experience with “The Glass Menagerie”, and it appears I’ve chosen quite well. With an expected extraordinary performance from the marvelous Cherry Jones as Amanda Wingfield, and an unexpectedly deft one from Zachary Quinto in his Broadway debut as Tom, it is difficult to imagine a more powerful one-two punch being delivered currently on the Great White Way. When you add the sparkling turns delivered by Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura and Brian J. Smith as The Gentleman Caller, you begin to realize that you’ve happened upon a quartet of a cast that is simply miraculous. All four of these performances getting Tony nominations in June is practically money in the bank. And as directed by John Tiffany, 2012’s Drama Desk and Tony Award-winning director of the Broadway musical “Once”, it becomes quickly apparent that you are witnessing a Tennessee Williams revival that will be the toast of the fall season and beyond. From the very opening scene of the show, featuring melancholy background narration from Quinto’s Tom, establishing what you are about to see as a play of “memory”—you’ll find yourself being sucked into the gloom-soaked world of the Wingfield clan. When Tom literally stumbles back in time into the living room of the family’s apartment, we fall along with him, as an astonishingly simple staging technique(movement by Steve Hoggett)becomes a footwork version of an H.G. Wells’ device. Add Bob Crowley’s startling, dream-like scenic design, and you may start shouting from the rooftops for theatre-goers to get thee to the Booth Theater on W. 45th Street. Yes, that’s a clarion call from yours truly—one that’s been echoed in just about every single print and on-line publication in the New York area. One for the ages? That seems to be the consensus. Far be it from me to disagree.
Tom is a struggling St. Louis poet that works in a warehouse, and his sister Laura is a painfully insecure, yet not unattractive young woman who walks with a pronounced limp. Mother Amanda, an outspoken and domineering faded Southern belle, is quick with an opinion and full of advice, yet still wounded by the abandonment by her husband some years prior. Laura is enrolled in business school, but we learn that she has stopped attending. The overwhelming pall of this 1930’s-set work prods us to feel the fear of her becoming an “old maid”. Tom, the dreamer, tries to overcome his boredom and desperation by writing and “going to the movies”. He feels trapped in supporting his mother and younger sibling, while Amanda expresses nostalgia for the “good old days” and is still trying to come to grips with the trauma of the years-long absence of Mr. Wingfield. Concern for the reclusive Laura, finds Amanda pining for the arrival of suitor, a white knight, a “gentleman caller”—to whisk her hapless daughter away. And when Tom decides to bring a co-worker from the warehouse home for dinner, Amanda becomes obsessed with the idea that she has found what the Wingfield ladies have been looking for. However, as fragile as a crystal unicorn, Laura’s chances of a courtship, may prove to be as unlikely as a field of “blue roses”. And the return of an unconquered past threatens to usher in a future of regret.
Haunting sound design by Clive Goodwin enhances the already ghostly proceedings, as do the expressive, frequent pantomimes of all four major characters. And this is the third time I’ve been in complete awe of the amazing stage presence that is Ms. Cherry Jones. I was fortunate to have watched her grace the stage in 1995’s “The Heiress” on Broadway, and then again a decade later in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Doubt”. She garnered the Tony for both, and chances are she’ll need an extra hand by next June’s awards program. Her Amanda is a performance as revelatory as that of Patti LuPone’s Momma Rose in “Gypsy” from a few seasons back. Stranger things have happened, but at this juncture it’s difficult to imagine Cherry being denied a three-peat. And what could’ve prepared us for the remarkable portrayal turned in by this generation’s Mr. Spock, the sensitive and brooding Zachary Quinto, as the disillusioned Tom. It’s an incredible debut achievement. With the delicate second act being almost completely dominated by the interaction of Ms. Keenan-Bolger’s Laura and Mr. Smith’s “Caller”, you’ll witness a tandem of some of the most intricately fine-tuned and heartbreakingly commanding acting I’ve yet experienced on a mid-town stage. It’s pretty apparent that I adore this production. Brilliantly bookended by Laura’s emergence from and disappearance into the cushions of a parlor sofa, and adorned by a stage-right rippling pool representing the bleak, night sky and its rising, crescent moon, there is also a wayward fire escape that rises to the heavens on a set that becomes a foreboding additional character. Wrapped in a regret that consistently bubbles to the surface, this limited run of Tennessee Williams potent autobiographical remembrance is an absolute must-see. This show rates a 10