The Glass Menagerie: Blown Glass?

I suppose that, as a whole, Broadway audiences must simply accept the fact that when we attend a revival of an American play or musical directed by one David Levaux there will be aspects of the production that will simply make us go, "What the...???"

The man who flooded the stage of Nine for no apparent reason and then showed us Teyve's daughters giving each other sponge baths now places a long shower curtain across the Wingfield's living room which is used to create shadowy scenes more appropriate for a Mickey Spillane potboiler than a Tennessee Williams drama. Thank goodness there's no actual water used in this one or a stray splash might have caused a short-circuit from the white neon light fixtures framing the apartment. (I kept wondering when Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme' were going to come out and start the floor show.) Add to this the occasional incidental sounds which seemed to be composed for The Phillip Glass Menagerie and there are more distractions at the Barrymore these days than you'll find in a theatre full of wrapper-crinkling talkers with their cell phone ringers set to "deafen" who've decided that a Broadway show is the perfect place to enjoy their value meals.

But with a little effort, theatre-goers can attend a David Levaux-directed revival and simply let any confusing touches pass over them, just as you gradually learn to shut out the annoying behavior of the troglodytes you've been seated among. Because if you really try and focus on the positive there is some good -- or at least interesting and justifiable -- work being done.

The play is not only remembered as Williams' impressive Broadway debut at age 34, but for the reverence that remains for Laurette Taylor's performance as Amanda Wingfield, an aged Southern belle left alone to mother her adult children; Laura, a terribly shy girl who walks with a leg brace and retreats from the world through her collection of glass figurines, and Tom, who can't start a life of his own because the women are dependent on his working class wages. What captivated audiences about Taylor was her stark naturalism. It's remembered as a performance that seemed too real to be acting. With Jessica Lange heading this cast Levaux turns a 180 on how Amanda is presented. Her every movement seems a choreographed charm school mannerism. Her extended drawls, girlish giggles and flirtatious manner seem a parody. And yet, Williams reminds us right from the start that this play all comes out of narrator Tom's memory, it seems perfectly reasonable to think that this caricature of self-indulgently helpless femininity is how he may remember her.

Tom himself is portrayed much differently than the poetic stand-in for the author admirers of the play would be accustomed to. In the form of Christian Slater he's a gregarious "regular guy" (It's not clear if he's a man's man, but he's clearly a guy's guy.) and a likable story-teller.

With mom a bit difficult to connect with, the tear-jerking responsibility is left in the hands of the actress playing Laura, and Sarah Paulson, playing her as acutely aware of her tiniest flaw, is especially empathetic. The delicacy with which she handles the character's gradual blossoming in her scene with Josh Lucas, who, as The Gentleman Caller, seems to be remembered by Tom as a little too perfect to be true (Well, maybe he is a man's man after all.), supplies the most touching moments of the evening.

On the whole I rather enjoyed this production of The Glass Menagerie, which either means I'm far more willing to see straight plays re-interpreted than musicals or that I've perfected the skill of blocking out petty annoyances.

 

Photos by Paul Kolnick: Top: Jessica Lange, Bottom: Christian Slater

 

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From This Author Michael Dale

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