The Glass Menagerie is back and in good form. It came into town with welcoming accolades from most of the major critics, elevating expectations that we might be seeing something like the legendary, though lost to time performance of Laurette Taylor in the original production. Who knows what she did? Still, old-timers swear it was the most amazing performance they ever saw on stage. Although this new production is sturdy and professional, it is merely a very good production of a wonderful play by Tennessee Williams. I found the 2010 Off Broadway production with Judith Ivy more illuminating and for the first time saw the burden of homosexuality weighing on the character of Tom as played by Patch Darragh. The imperfect 2005 Broadway production still resonated with Jessica Lang giving a luminous performance. With those two rather recent experiences in the back of my mind for comparison, I find this current production to be cleaner overall, but not other-worldly or transformative. This production is simply very good and there is nothing wrong with that.
The defining stamp on this production does not come from the performances of the excellent Cherry Jones as Amanda or the very appropriate Zachary Quinto as Tom, but from Director John Tiffany. Tiffany has come up with some entertaining gimmicks to exploit Tom’s explanation to the audience that this is a memory play. And so Tom goes back in time by tripping backwards onto the set and pulling his co-stars on stage through creative and unreal means. These touches are clever, but do not add anything substantial to the proceedings. The real worth of the whole thing is the beautiful writing by Williams and the durable cast on hand to put over an alternately funny and sad play about noble, but struggling people, fighting to keep their dreams from going down the drain.
If each production has had a stand-out performance that illuminated a character in a new way for me in the past, then this was the first production where it happened with “The Gentleman Caller,” played with originality by Brian J. Smith. Celia Keenan-Bolger does an expectedly good job with the character of Laura, all shy and limping, but Smith brings something beautifully humane, charming and empathetic out of this character. The longish centerpiece scene of Act II. where the “Caller” slowly coaxes Laura out of her shell was never so entrancing in the last two major New York productions. The true acting signature of this production is this duet scene.
Beyond the directorial touches, Bob Crowley’s outside the box set design (costumes too) brings signature definition to the physical production by having the floor of the apartment set float in space––now it is among the stars and now it is swimming in a dark sea. He has decided to make the all important portrait of the distant father invisible––viewable only to the cast as they stare out into the audience to contemplate it.
If you’ve never seen this play, this is a great production in which to be introduced to a worthy classic. If you’re a big fan of this play, you can’t miss this production. If you’re on the fence, there will be other productions that rival it.