Friday, October 25, 2013

Theater Review: The Glass Menagerie

Zachary Quinto, Cherry Jones, Brian J. Smith and Celia Keenan-Bolger. Photo: Michael J. Lutch
A New Way to Reflect on an Oft-Seen Classic
By Lauren Yarger
Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is one of his most produced plays. In New York alone, we just saw Roundabout Theatre Company's Off-Broadway version (via Long Wharf in Connecticut) with Judith Ivey in 2010.

On Broadway, Jessica Lange and Julie Harris starred in 2005 and 1995 following version with Jessica Tandy following three other versions back to the original in 1946. (My personal favorite, is a 1973 TV version, believe it or not, with Katharine Hepburn).

It's back again on Broadway in an exquisitely-staged American Repertory Company production  with Cherry Jones in the role of Amanda, a controlling mother obsessed with finding her daughter a gentleman caller while smotherng her writer son, a hardly disguised version of Williams himself.

The play is enjoyed as a vehicle for meaty female roles -- fierce Amanda and shy, "crippled" daughter Laura (here, Celia Keenan-Bolger). Look for Tony award nominations for both.

As compelling as their performances are, the real stars of this production, directed by John Tiffany, might just be Bob Crowley (sets and costumes) and Natasha Katz (lighting design). Look for nominations here too. Together they have created the isolated world of a fading southern beauty hanging on to to memories of her youth -- an island floating on a lake of reflection.

The story is told from Tom's point of view. Zachary Quinto steps into this role with authority and truth be told, the persona of Williams himself. It really s his tale to tell and Quinto makes us understand both the writer's love and loathing for his mother and sister (at risk of repeating myself, it's a nomination-worthy performance). He addresses the audiences directly at beginning and end to frame the memories surrounding one particular night when Tom brings a friend to dinner at the family's apartment.

The "gentleman caller" (Brian J. Smith) turns out to be a boy who had been kind to Laura in high school (and played here as a happy-go-lucky guy not as sensitive to Laura as we have come to expect.)  He wins her confidence and she entrusts him with a piece of her glass menagerie-- a collection of glass figurines that provide the only beauty or happiness in the bleak life of a girl so isolated that she fades into the folds of a sofa without notice (with the help of Crowley and Katz). The menagerie itself is represented by one spotlighted crystal piece and hundreds of lights of point reflected in a pool below.

The pool is fascinating -- quietly undetectable until it reflects an upside-down image of the reality taking place above it. This alter-reality just below the surface  beckons to Tom, who leans over the jagged edges of his world in thoughts of escape. It's exquisite staging. You might want to consider a mezzanine seat for this show to get the full effect.

The barebones staging and props balance the impact of the special effects. One scene in particular, where Amanda and Laura flip a non-existent tablecloth, brings home the idea of "what's real?"

This Glass Menagerie has great performances, but the visionary staging gives lots of room for reflection on the play's themes.

The Glass Menagerie has been extended through Feb. 23 at the Booth theatre, 222 West 45th St., NYC. For tickets and information: http://www.broadway.com.

Note: Ladies, don't plan on using the restroom at this theater. Half the line won't get through before curtain.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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