BWW Interview: Brian J. Smith Answers the Call of THE GLASS MENAGERIE
This stunning new production, starring the always-remarkable Cherry Jones, is a new take on this heartbreaking story of a desperate family weaned on impossible dreams.
Smith studied hard for his role as a once-hotshot high school student who's now boxed in at a dead-end job along with Tom (a dreamy-eyed Zachary Quinto). Tom's mother, Amanda (Cherry Jones), is an outsized character who compulsively strives to micromanage her desperate children's lives.
Her daughter, Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger), has two strikes against her-a childhood illness has left her with a crippled foot, and her over-arching timidity compels her to flee from the public and create a fantasy world inhabited by a beloved collection of glass animals. Tom and Laura's father, a phone worker who, as Amanda describes, "fell in love with long distance" and hasn't been seen in years. Tom, who sees the writing on the wall, is next to flee, his eye on the merchant marines.
But he won't leave before Laura is set up with a reliable "gentleman caller," at the urging of Amanda.
Smith had nothing but praise for his fellow actors and behind-the-scenes team. "The astonishing direction and choreography of the play is brilliant," said Smith.
Dozens of tiny light beams, stand-ins for Laura's animal collection, decorate the lip of the stage like constellations that have fallen to earth. "The light takes over and illuminates the stage gorgeously whenever Laura takes out her collection," he said, especially her favorite piece-the unicorn.
Smith is an ardent Tennessee Williams fan now, but not so before this show, directed by John Tiffany. "I was only familiar with him in an academic way," he explained between shows. "I remember watching scenes in acting class, but he was only in the back of my mind as the eccentric southern writer. So I wasn't overly impressed with him then. But when this opportunity came around, that all changed," he recalled.
"I walked into this room to audition and was very curious about the play because Cherry Jones was in it and of course John, who had done amazing things with ONCE, and then seeing that Quinto was going to be in it was so exciting."
Smith had crossed paths with Jones when he was an impressionable acting student. "When I was a first year student at Julliard, I wasn't happy, not sure about this acting thing," he said. "DOUBT was playing and I ended up seeing it on Christmas Eve because my plane was canceled. Cherry was on that night and she transformed my life. I cornered her at the stage door and told her 'Someday we will work together,' and here we are.
"There are so many scenes in the play that are simply magical, it's almost impossible to pick a favorite one, " he said. The table ballet - a moving silent scene in which Amanda and Laura perform a pas de deux with their arms and hands - wasn't in the script-- and it's so beautiful with the two of them moving in sync, he said.
Williams had been pressured to change the dark ending with a happier one, Smith said. "Everybody wanted him to change the ending. They wanted Laura and Jim to get married," he said with a laugh. "We go with the original depressing and beautiful ending."
Williams' edgy perspective was a radical departure from the more feel-good plays that were circulating during that time in history, Smith said. "He was interested in naturalistic expressions, but the play is all about memory, not reality," he said.
"I've seen the show many times and I still get goose-bumps in the final moments," he said. "And what happens with the room and how Laura exits, is just magical and we hear the audience respond every time. That response is what gets us re-invested and never jaded by the play."