Review: The Glass Menagerie by: Jordan Diggory
Rating: Theatre: Belasco Theatre Show Runtime: 2 hrs. and 05 min.
Unpacking a classic like “The Glass Menagerie” is always difficult. The director and actors must figure out if they are attempting to twist the text into shedding light on a new idea or comment on life, sticking to a traditional mount of the show, or blending traditional and modern ideas into some new form. Sam Gold’s version of “The Glass Menagerie” seemingly attempts to blend modernism, minimalism, and traditionalism into a poignant commentary on changing times, dreams, memories, family obligation, and an inability to let go of the past.
‘The cast performs phenomenally, their interaction is a real as it gets, and meshed with Williams’ poetic prose, the words, charged with moment-to-moment tension and connection, fly from the actors lips to the back of the house.’
Tennessee Williams’ iconic play tells the story of Laura, a “crippled” girl (nimbly played by the quiet, yet very present and engaged Madison Ferris in her Broadway debut), and Tom, her poet brother and the narrator of the play (portrayed by a grandiosely grounded Joe Mantello, who alternates between poetic superiority and childish rage with the flip of a switch). They are complemented by their mother, Amanda (played by a viciously Southern Sally Field, with an unrivaled emotional range) who remains shackled to the past, and a gentleman caller, Jim (energetically played by the animated, genuine Finn Wittrock). The cast performs phenomenally, their interaction is a real as it gets, and meshed with Williams’ poetic prose, the words, charged with moment-to-moment tension and connection, fly from the actors lips to the back of the house. Fields’ final “Go to the moon!” rings for what feels like forever, her unbridled rage and frustration, so cautiously restrained throughout the show, finally bursting through her carefully constructed wall of aged grace and Southern charm.
Mantello’s monologues are the true heart of the play. His delivery of “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket. I have things up my sleeve,” spoken with the house lights still at half, seems almost trivial, nearly casual, but still steeped in the heightened tension of Williams’ language, and the emotional infusion of Mantello’s character choices. The stage and house continue to darken throughout the play, drawing us further and further towards the stage until, like the characters, we are plunged into total darkness with the power going out.
‘There is no backdrop, nothing to conceal the exposed wall of the Belasco Theater itself, nothing to hide the unabashed humanity of those on the stage.’
The next 45 minutes of the play are lit, nearly exclusively, by candlelight. This continues to highlight Gold’s movement towards minimalism, as the candlelight illuminates the lack of furnishings on the stage. There is nearly no set, save a Victrola, crate, table, four chairs, and a barely concealed rack of props. There is no backdrop, nothing to conceal the exposed wall of the Belasco Theater itself, nothing to hide the unabashed humanity of those on the stage. However, the candlelight effect reveals the major problem with this play: the space itself.
There are two major effects in the show: one is the neon light that is brought out a few times to illustrate the dance hall across the alley, the other is the literal rainstorm that happens on stage. The unexpected deluge is remarkable, and in stark contrast with the modesty of the rest of the design of the play. The show seems to suffer from a lack of intimacy at times. The enormity of the space dwarfs the actors. The only times the space seems to shrink is when the candelabra are lit, reducing the space to the range of candlelight, and even then, the distance between the pairs of characters is painfully obvious through the yawning chasm of darkness, and during the rainstorm, when Laura is isolated from the cheery dinner party by a wall of water.
‘Since this is a memory play, perhaps the idea is to allow the characters to exist within a sort of dreamscape, a world between worlds.’
Perhaps this choice is intentional. Since this is a memory play, perhaps the idea is to allow the characters to exist within a sort of dreamscape, a world between worlds. There is minimal delineation of time or space in this production, leading to a sort of nebulous through-line of action, punctuated, again, by Williams’ timeless wordsmithing. This is one play I’m still slightly stymied by.
I can’t discern whether this is supposed to be some grandiose statement about the martyrdom of family, the curse of self doubt, the obligation to family, the allure of the world outside one’s doors, or something else deep and pervasive, or just a vehicle for the majestic prose of Tennessee Williams.
Perhaps that’s the point. Draw just enough thin, watery lines to allow the audience to see whatever it is they want to see. Allow them to be overwhelmed by the power of the performances by Fields, Mantello, Ferris, and Wittrock, and the words of “The Glass Menagerie” itself, without feeling the need to immerse themselves in a world that exists independently of the seats in the theatre. Maybe we just get to see the glass menagerie itself: a moment in time, sparkling and transparent, simple and clean, clear and wholly complex, before we place it back into its case, ready and waiting for the next time we need to ask questions of it.
Show runtime: 2 hrs. and 05 min.
111 W. 44th St.
New York, NY
The Glass Menagerie Cast Members:
Sally Field, Joe Mantello, Finn Wittrock, Madison Ferris
The Glass Menagerie Creative Team:
Author: Tennessee Williams
Director: Sam Gold
If you enjoyed this article, check out our review of Sunset Boulevard.