Advance Tickets Recommended
Cherry Jones, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Zachary Quinto, Brian J. Smith
1, 2, 3, 7, N, Q, R, S at Times Sq.-42nd St.
||Tue-Thu, 7pm; Wed, Sat, 2pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm|
It takes a second, but only a second, for the magic to sink in: You’re watching Zachary Quinto, as Tom Wingfield, recite those famous opening lines (“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve”), and suddenly he falls backward into a Spartan set: couch, table, the diffident masculine silhouette of a coat rack. At this point, we’re still following an actor across a stage (what’s he doing with his hands? Is this the “trick”?) and maybe wondering just how self-conscious this reinvention of an American classic is going to get. Then Celia Keenan-Bolger enters as Laura—I won’t say how she does it—and Tom’s memory takes its first gulping breath as a living thing. In whisks Cherry Jones’s Amanda, and the spell is cast.
Tennessee Williams intended The Glass Menagerie to be the forward salient of a new “plastic theater” that would supplant cheap realism and deliver truth in a savage, ravishing dream. He lived long enough to see his experiment become a war horse. (It’s been on Broadway once a decade since the sixties.) Nearly 70 years on, it’s catechism, and even people who haven’t seen it think they have—it hangs suspended in our collective unconscious. Which is where director John Tiffany (Once, Black Watch) sets his simple, stunning conjuration of the great American “memory play”: In our fathomless shared darkness, where shapes swim up out of the murk to remind us of what we only think we remember.
What can possibly be new here? Nothing and everything. Amanda, as embodied by Jones, is still Williams’s nostalgic, squawking matriarch, parted from her precious illusions only by extreme force: For her, the Great Depression her family is weathering—after the catastrophic departure of the paterfamilias, the “telephone man who fell in love with long distances”—is merely a stopover between plantations. But there’s no mistaking her for the villain, as can be the case in lesser productions. Jones’s extraordinary face—where covert terrors undulate beneath the veneer of ridiculous gentility—is a map of vast, oppressive compassion.
Amanda’s secretive son, Tom, is that other sort of dreamer: the fugitive kind, a moviegoer and a night-cruiser, turning away from the past not out of optimism but desperation. Quinto’s known for his repressed Spock in the new Star Trek movies, and his cool caginess and sidelong, sharklike features are well deployed here, as is the effeminate manner he takes no pains to disguise around his mother and sister. This Tom is a genuinely guilty soul, not just a maudlin young man, and the focal point of his guilt is his fragile sister, Laura. Like Jones, Keenan-Bolger is revivifying an iconic role. She is the show’s soul and organizing principle; I’m not sure its witchcraft would work without her. (Jones, believe it or not, is not the center here—and her understanding of that accredits her genius.) Keenan-Bolger, her powerful chirp reduced to a broken flute, merges Laura seamlessly with the stylized movement choreographed by Steven Hoggett (Tiffany’s longtime collaborator), displaying a musical-theater vet’s surety and precision. Yet she’s still Williams’s Laura, a broken mouse with a bum leg, crippling anxiety, and a delicately curated inner life vividly represented by her treasury of glass animals.
Tiffany has thinned that herd down to a single unicorn, and this sets the keynote for his crystalline vision: simple, expressive gestures, both physical and designed, briefly and brightly illuminating the rich darkness—a world truly “lit by lightning,” in Tom’s famous phrase. The Wingfield home floats in a black pool of oblivion, a sliver of moon reflected in its surface (with no correlate in the sky). A fire-escape ladders up endlessly, diminishing into nothing. Tom, telling the story of the disastrous night he and his mother arranged a “gentleman caller” for Laura, trolls the shores of this little island; Amanda and Laura huddle inland, and their rare trips to the edge are memorable. As for the gentleman caller himself, Brian J. Smith finds new pathos and a guarded inner dignity in a character often played as a golden retriever.