|Photo by Julieta Cervantes|
|Joe Mantello & Sally Field in The Glass Menagerie|
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The Glass Menagerie - our #ShowOfTheWeek - is a piece that has been no stranger to Broadway since its premiere in 1945. Indeed this production of acclaimed playwright Tennessee Williams’ iconic "memory play" marks its seventh Broadway revival to date. It arrives on the Great White Way via a 2015 staging at avant-garde director Ivo Van Hove’s Toneelgroep Amsterdam – a clear indication of the play’s international appeal, which is only further emphasised by the fact that it is currently represented simultaneously in both London’s West End (a transfer of the Cherry Jones-led production which played Broadway from 2013 to 2014) and in New York.
If you have seen any of the previous incarnations of The Glass Menagerie or if you are overly familiar with its themes through studying the masterpiece at school or seeing either of its Hollywood film adaptations, then the experience of seeing it stripped back in this new staging at the Belasco Theatre will certainly be a rewarding one. Director Sam Gold – who picked up a Tony Award for ‘Fun Home’ in 2015 – has laid the four characters of the piece bare and raw and the story (or the "memories"), told so many times before, is freshly interpreted for a modern audience. There are no signs of period costumes, sets or props. In fact, all of the above are so minimal that there are no distractions that take focus away from the actors. The costumes are ambiguously modern – T-shirts, jeans, denim shorts – and we get the sense that this family could be our neighbours. We could be eavesdropping in on their conflicts through a thin wall that separates us.
Although Mr. Gold’s directorial decisions and themes sometimes clash with the specifics of the text – according to our narrator for the evening Tom Wingfield (the Tennessee Williams character), we are transported to St. Louis in the 1930s and his sister Laura Wingfield, who is described as having a slight limp, we actually see struggling with a more severe disability – the truth remains that these new themes are intriguing to explore. Can we as a modern audience relate more nowadays to a dilemma of future prospects – both in terms of love and a career – for the heavily disabled, as opposed to an introverted character with a limp? Do the new circumstances intensify the neurotic desperation of the mother, Amanda Wingfield?
The challenge of conveying these wrought emotions of desperation eight shows a week falls into the very capable hands of two-time Oscar winner Sally Field, who triumphantly makes her long-awaited return to Broadway. Ms. Field balances the difficult task of highlighting Amanda’s relentlessly exhausting nature and the burden she perhaps unknowingly places on the shoulders of her children, whilst at the same time inducing a degree of empathy from the audience. She is perfectly cast and offers up a heart-breaking performance with the mammoth task set before her. Her co-star, Joe Mantello, who makes a welcomed return to acting after forging such an impressive career in the director’s chair, is mesmerizing as Tom. As he breaks the fourth wall, he has such a natural ease about him that calmly invites us into the lion’s den, and he paces out his growing exasperation with his mother so generously, that we are steadily taken along his character’s arc over the course of the play and not just thrown in the deep end and forced to swim for our lives. I, for one, hope to see Mr. Mantello act in many more productions to come! The cast is rounded out by Finn Wittrock as the "gentleman caller" Jim O’Connor and Madison Ferris as Laura Wingfield, whose scenes played out next to candlelight and engulfed in the surrounding darkness are both tragically haunting and helplessly moving.
This Broadway revival is a theatrical experiment that delivers a great deal of food for thought and lets us view characters that we may think we know inside out, in a distinctly different light. Gold’s interpretation may not be classic, but it was invigorating to see unfold.
Click here for tickets to The Glass Menagerie for performances through to July 2, 2017 at Broadway's Belasco Theatre.
- by Tom Millward