The Glass Menagerie at the A.R.T

by Bryce Lambert on February 16, 2013

All the pieces are in place to send the ART’s production of The Glass Menagerie to Broadway. And I mean the Broadway that still kinda matters, not the tourist traps state officials would bribe producers to have Boston become a proving ground for. There’s the gushing review from Ben Brantley, there are actors with New York and film & television credits, we have classic text just oh-so-rightly modernized, and there’s a very cinematic aesthetic element to the show–long musical interludes and things like that.

The despondence and stark realism of Williams is all there too, but director John Tiffany and set designer Bob Crowley have set the play in a surreal space, accentuating the play’s actual setting. Not in some low rent quarter of St. Louis, but deep down in the memory of our narrator/sometimes protagonist Tom. An M.C. Escher like fire escape steps upwards, making this broken family’s shabby apartment feel like its underground. In the play’s present, it’s Tom’s dungeon. And years into the future, long after he has climbed out and apparently “lived” in the world, following in the footsteps of his wayward father, Tom narrates his memories of this place as if it’s a little prison in his soul. And it looks like it. The dimly-lit set is something out of one of those movies where they go inside people’s dreams.

As Tom, Zachary Quinto is something of an incarnation of Tennessee Williams. He’s sly, poetic, and a little effeminate. As both character and narrator, his projection and commandment of the stage is extraordinary. He shifts about, like a calmly neurotic fish out of water conveying both frailty and a supreme intelligence.

The reviews I’ve read have flatteringly called Cherry Jones’ portrayal of Amanda straight. That is to say, not some grotesque parody of a beaten down Southern belle. Perhaps it’s Williams’ text seeping through, but there’s just so much madness to her machinations to marry off her daughter. She’s perfectly reasonable, somewhat loving, and often competent, but beneath every maternal act and smooth sales pitch for whatever lady’s magazine she hocks over the phone, lurks a woman sick with delusions. In many ways, she’s sicker than her daughter Laura.

Williams’ great dramatic coincidence is well played here; the Gentleman Caller (Brian J. Smith) that happens to be Laura’s high school crush. It’s painful to watch Smith and Kennan-Bolger (as Laura) build there chemistry together, as this high school hero lately humbled by warehouse work, breaks down Laura’s handicapping shyness with gentle advances. But as good as things seem to be going for Laura (and by extension, the rest of her family), we spend this whole portion of the play just knowing that everything is spiraling towards the same starkness the play began with. Yea, it’s a downer. But the cast and crew have sketched a powerful emotional arc into this visually unique production that I don’t think anyone’s going to want to miss. So go ahead and get one-up on those New Yorkers while you can.

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