• Follow BBBway on Twitter

  • Boneau/Bryan-Brown on LinkedIn
  • This Just In:

  • BBBway Tweets

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • wordpress stats
  • Advertisements

Roundabout’s The Glass Menagerie reviewed by NY Times

Gritty Polish for a Tennessee Williams Jewel 

[Click to watch video]


The gauzy draping that usually trims productions of “The Glass Menagerie” has been packed up and put away. Do not come to the Laura Pels Theater, where the Roundabout Theater Company’s terrific new revival of Tennessee Williams’s career-igniting play opened on Wednesday night, looking for a standard dose of weepy Southern lyricism. 

Instead you’ll find something unexpected, namely the fiercely moving and seriously funny play Williams actually wrote, in a production directed by Gordon Edelstein that’s lightning-lit from within by the tough, compelling and first-rate Amanda Wingfield of Judith Ivey , giving what is surely the performance of her career. Ms. Ivey’s achingly real and often hilarious turn shares much in common with the shattering Blanche DuBois of Cate Blanchett seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last fall.

The bite of the humor will disarm and delight those willing to see the play with fresh eyes and hear it with open ears, just as it may inflame the sensibilities of those who prefer their Williams slathered in cliché. As a memory play framed by the lyrical recollections of the narrator, Tom, a stand-in for the young Williams, “The Glass Menagerie” is particularly susceptible to productions that shroud it in a mist of elegy.

In Mr. Edelstein’s thought-provoking approach, the sheen of lyricism is yanked away instantly. The lights go up on a shabby room where the shambling Tom (Patch Darragh) has obviously landed after the dreams of seafaring adventuring and literary achievement have evaporated. It is clear that life has soured for him, his youthful hopes have proved chimerical, his mother’s dire warnings revealed as painful prophecy. 

Sitting down to the typewriter, bottle of whiskey at the ready, he conjures his memories not with yearning regret, but with the anguished sense that they contain the bitter truth of his life that he has never before been willing to face — and that getting that truth on paper may be his last chance at salvation. Instead of seducing us with the poetry that frames his recollections, Mr. Darragh’s fumbling reading of sheets pulled fresh from the typewriter allows us to hear the narration as the strained, sometimes tiresome maunderings of an inexperienced writer. 

The reality that Tom’s pretty poeticizing cannot soften blazes into being as soon as the high-pitched whinny of Ms. Ivey’s Amanda breaks into the room, her voice encapsulating the shrill nag of every mother who ever hounded an unwilling boy to rise and shine, to get a move on, to buck himself up. Refreshingly, Ms. Ivey does not try to layer a spurious charm on the character; she acknowledges the wearying attributes that so get under Tom’s skin. We feel, with an unusually sharp edge, how impossible this woman could be to live with.

Amanda’s opening salvo on the importance of mastication, the nightly troop through the gallery of former beaus, the endless inquisition on the background of the gentleman caller Tom finally agrees to bring home for his sister, Laura (Keira Keeley): all are delivered as the nerve-rattling chatter of a woman with little sense of how absurd she is. Yet Ms. Ivey’s wholly natural performance draws out all the humor in Williams’s depiction of this smothering woman without surrendering her complexity or humanity. 

She excels at conveying the fear that claws insistently at Amanda’s heart, the anxiety behind her admonitory lectures. The trembling rage with which she berates a cowering Laura for abandoning her typing classes is fueled by the knowledge that the $50 fee represented a sizable investment for the family, but, more important, by the collapse of her hope that the inhibited Laura will be able to fend for herself.

For all her harshness, however, Ms. Ivey’s Amanda is also a loving mother with a caressing hand who invests every ounce of her energy, every thought in her scheming mind, in her hopes for her children. The moments of tender truce between mother and son are all the sweeter for the real violence of the storms that have come before.

Mr. Darragh and Ms. Keeley performed alongside Ms. Ivey in this production when I first saw it last season at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven. They have both grown in the roles. Mr. Darragh brings an antsy, peevish edge to Tom, his retorts to his mother marinated in ripe sarcasm that she sometimes ignores, sometimes condemns. But he also conveys Tom’s own protective fears for Laura, when he piteously implores his mother not to hope too much from her on the night of the fateful caller.

Ms. Keeley exudes the awkwardness of a newborn foal, her dark eyes wincing away from her mother’s pleas and exhortations, or the beaming inquisitiveness of the gentleman caller, Jim, played with appealing dash by Michael Mosley. 


# # # #


%d bloggers like this: