|THE GLASS MENAGERIE|
Time – 72 years to be exact – cannot extinguish the power of Tennessee Williams’ great autobiographical play, “The Glass Menagerie,” even if maverick director Sam Gold’s decidedly non-traditional (and intermission-free!) Broadway revival at the Belasco Theatre often seems determined to blow out its proverbial candles long before its famous final scene.
Sparely decorated stage, check; oddly contemporary clothes, check; the show’s narrator and protagonist Tom Wingfield, played by a 55-year-old actor (the superb Joe Mantello), check; the disabled daughter Laura (a bland Madison Ferris) reconceived as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic (in direct contradiction of the text); check. Even the inherent poetry of Williams’ language has rarely sounded more prosaic – not to mention, far more Midwestern than Southern. (Perhaps the fact this production originated at Toneelgroep Amsterdam, home of the equally iconoclastic director Ivo Van Hove, accounts for some of Gold’s more peculiar choices.)
And yet. Heartbreak still abounds as we watch the show’s complex dynamic play out: the not-openly-gay Tom’s overwhelming desire to escape both St. Louis and his overbearing mother Amanda (Sally Field, more later), but bound by responsibility to protect and provide for the painfully shy Laura; Amanda’s too-fierce determination to change Tom and find Laura either a career or suitor (or both); and Laura’s seemingly hopeful flirtation with former high school crush Jim O’Connor (the exuberant Finn Wittrock) shatter as quickly and coarsely as a piece of her glass menagerie. Only an actual rock could remain unmoved.
Gold’s decision to cast Mantello – three decades past the age of the 22-year-old Tom in the narrative – makes this production something of a “distant memory” play, causing one to wonder just how reliable our narrator actually is. Perhaps his recollections of his mother, far more bitter than sweet, are grossly exaggerated. Or conversely, perhaps he has put off telling this tale and is now doing so with an age-earned wisdom or slightly mellowed rancor. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking casting decision. As to the performance itself, Mantello’s singular delivery finds a great deal of humor in the text that was previously unmined, yet he also paints Tom with strong brushstrokes of pain, exasperation, and ultimately, regret.
Still, there’s little question this production’s raison d’etre is Field, a two-time Oscar winner making only the second Broadway appearance of her 50+ year career. We can only hope her third appearance comes really quickly.
At 70, she’s technically far too old to play Amanda, but even from the fourth row, she can easily pass for 50 in the show’s first half. Moreover, she captures Amanda not as a “witch,” but as a struggling single mother (having been abandoned by her husband 16 years ago), afraid for her future, who has displaced and misplaced whatever affection she has left on her two adult children. Indeed (and in large part, due to Mantello’s casting), she and Tom often seem more like husband-and-wife than mother-and-son. She chides, she cajoles, she scolds him– all to little positive effect. (You know why her husband left!)
For close to an hour, it’s hard to believe even a hint of the Southern belle Amanda claims to have been still exists. And then, just prior to Mr. O’Connor’s arrival for that fateful dinner, Amanda emerges in an inappropriately girlish dress (perfectly chosen by Wojciech Dziedzic), and the intervening years – and bitterness – seem to literally disappear. And once Jim enters the apartment, Field’s Amanda almost literally transforms into that giddy girl who may truly have entertained 17 gentleman callers in a single afternoon. Even more stunning, sadly, is how instantly that Amanda retreats and her present-day form re-emerges once she learns that her daughter’s “intended” is actually intended for someone else.
It’s barely a spoiler to note that those final candles don’t exactly get blown out. For this “Menagerie” is unquestionably a horse of a different color.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Sally Field, Joe Mantello, Finn Wittrock, Madison Ferris
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 2/7/2017
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New York, NY 10036