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Monday, April 12, 2010

Seeing Through The Looking Glass - The Glass Menagerie - Play Review

The Glass Menagerie - Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Tennessee Williams, Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Runs until Jun. 13th 2010, Transfers to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles - Sept. 1st - Oct. 17th 2010


I remember reading this play in high school and identifying with Tom Wingfield but I've forgotten why exactly. I just remembered loving the play, and that I thought I WAS Tom Wingfield. I have never actually seen the play performed and have just been left with the memories of being captivated by reading the play in High School English class.

The new production currently running at Roundabout's Off-Broadway location has apparently changed up the play in a radical way but since I only have vague memories of the play, I can only guess to the exact changes, most obviously, the setting (but if there were other major changes, I'm not really sure what they were). Director Gordon Edelstein has moved the setting from the Wingfield's house and into an old hotel room. How does that work? Well, at first it seems like some meaningless twist, though it gives for some nice theatrical staging effects, but it hints at the end results and gives the final moments an even bigger impact (though if you don't actually know the classic play, I won't give it away here).

Edelstein's production starts off a little slow, mainly because it is carefully gathering the glass pieces for a bigger shattering effect, but once the haze dissipates, a clarity in the characters makes this The Glass Menagerie truly shine. The terrific cast brings a realism and humour to Williams' artfully constructed words, and there's an ease and connectivity to the tragic story.

Judith Ivey (Designing Women) easily breathes the words of Amanda Wingfield, the overbearing mother whose protectiveness and bossiness hurts and hinders her two grown children. Ivey gives her Amanda a lightness that makes the ease of her manipulation and pushiness all the more startling. The Southern charm becomes a perfect foil and Ivey makes the character both very specific and incredibly universal.

Patch Darragh's (Mercy) Tom Wingfield perfectly balances his love and frustration with his family and his increasingly unbearable situation. Struggling to live life and further his career, he lives under his overbearing mother, while caringly protects his sister Laura (Keira Keeley). Tom's escapes to the "movies" become his constance excuse to live by his mother's rules while secretly having homosexual encounters. It's beautifully subtle (and sadly for me, very recognizable) and Darragh's superb performance is incredibly believable. The audience understands why he stays with his remaining family, and under the weight of his runaway father, and Darragh has a wonderful sibling rapport with Keeley.

Keira Keeley completely disappears in the first act, lost on the sidelines as she plays with her collection of glass figurines, and it's perfect that way. Tom and Amanda vie for control of the family which makes Laura pull back even further, and it's only when the Gentleman Caller's visit in the second act, that mother Amanda forces Tom to invite, forces Laura out of her secure protective hideaway.

When Michael Mosley's (Scrubs) Gentleman Caller Jim O'Connor shows up for dinner and blasts Laura and Tom's life with a burst of energy and enthusiasm, it starts a stir in Keeley's Laura and Keeley makes her Laura slowly bloom while retaining her fragility. Laura's transition in the presence of Jim only reinforces the intelligent move to the stillness in her performance in the first act, and Keeley's performance only enhances Williams' story.

Mosley turns a truly fine performance as a confident man unaffected by earlier failures. His high school's success is only fuel for his optimistic outlook for the future, as unrealistic as they may be. The Gentleman Caller gives Laura hope, but also rattles Tom, as an example to another way to live, and Mosley's Caller gives the fresh air needed to change the stale air within the Wingfield clan.

Michael Yeargan's hotel room set nicely reveals its further layers as the walls become semi translucent to reveal the memories Tom recounts. Jennifer Tipton's lighting, especially considering it becomes a major plot point, is nicely handled, and the scenes relying on candlelight become intimate without becoming a technical hinderance. Edelstein has polished a beautiful production that has a sense of time and place while still feeling relevant and modern, and the superb cast gives new life to Tennessee Williams' oldest play.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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