Review: B’way’s ‘The Glass Menagerie’ thrilling

September 27, 2013 • Business

This theater image released by Jeffrey Richards Associates shows Cherry Jones, left, and Zachary Quinto during a performance of “The Glass Menagerie.” The production opens on Sept. 26, 2013 at the Booth Theatre in New York. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Richards Associates, Michael J. Lutch)

NEW YORK (AP) — The way Laura makes her entrance in the new Broadway production of “The Glass Menagerie” is jaw-droppingly brilliant. She emerges from out of the middle of a sofa, as if being born anew. It’s a tip that a thrilling night at the theater awaits.

There’s magic from start to finish at the Booth Theatre, where the new production of Tennessee William’s great play about regret opened Thursday starring a superb Cherry Jones and a revelatory Zachary Quinto. It’s evocative, sometimes surreal and sublimely organic — the perfect package for a play about faded and frayed memories.

Like Laura’s dreamlike entrance, the visual tricks include a business card pulled out of Laura’s ear by the Gentleman Caller and the waving of a handkerchief [auth] over a slumbering Tom as if to help him disappear. Even the glass on the stage is an illusion: it’s actually water.

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve,” the narrator Tom explains at the beginning, his words perfectly fitting for this beautiful, dreamy staging by the American Repertory Theater. The tricks remind you about the unreliability of memory and the games the mind can play.

Director John Tiffany, scenic designer Bob Crowley, lighting designer Natasha Katz and choreographer Steven Hoggett — who all made the musical “Once” so special — have done it again, blurring text and music and movement into a fresh and flowing, intimate staging. There is nothing excess here, no look-at-me pieces to distract.

Jones, already known as a force of theatrical nature, eagerly grasps Amanda Wingfield in all her complexity. Her faded Southern belle is smothering and needy, but also rightfully worried and loving, even if it’s all wrapped up in her narcissism. She’s no mere tyrant, as other productions are want to make of her.

Quinto as Tom is special — sarcastic and restless, yes, but also frustrated and sweet. (He makes a terrific drunk, too.) The “Star Trek” star mocks his mother with eye rolls and bitterness at times, but he also melts into her during less angry moments. His performance has so many colors, so much feeling, that it’s breathtaking. Mother and son are utterly believable as adults who equally frustrate and comfort.

The two others in the cast prove up to these two aces, making it a true ensemble: Celia Keenan-Bolger is a delicate Laura, never overplaying her deformity and prone to staring into nothingness when she shuts down emotionally. Brian J. Smith as the Gentleman Caller is funny and warm and wonderfully lost.

The action takes place on Crowley’s evocative set, with a fire escape that disappears into the roof and the stage made of interlocking wooden platforms above still water, serving like islands on a sea of memory. There is plenty of music, including original pieces by Nico Muhly, who relies on violins, as the text suggests. Katz’s lighting is moody and dim, like a distant remembrance, only sparkling to life when a beam hits a glass unicorn.

And Hoggett has gotten his actors to enter and exit scenes in movements that are sometimes jerky or exaggerated, like watching warped film. Tom, for instance, basically falls backward into the play’s opening scene, as if tumbling into the past. Another powerful moment has Laura and her mother endlessly setting the table, their hands fluttering as if in a montage of dozens of meals. Jones adds a shaky hand to hint at her increasing infirmity, justifying her worry of the future.

It’s all heady stuff and an alchemy that must be experienced. All the parts fit — from the moody design to the stirring music and the push-and-pull of these characters — and all of it breathes life into a 70-year-old play. It is, like the work itself, unforgettable.

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