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The Family Ties That Bind: ‘The Glass Menagerie’

March 10th, 2017 Comments off
Sally Field and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Sally Field and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

I have no doubt that Sam Gold’s stark, contemporary interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ masterwork, The Glass Menagerie, will polarize audiences and critics alike. The current Broadway revival, which opened last night at the Belasco Theatre, is a muscular, often anachronistic work. “The play is memory,” says the son, Tom (Joe Mantello), “Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” If you believe those words at face value, as I did, you will discover a production that bristles with familial uncomfortability. That pushes your boundaries beyond the suspension of disbelief. And that, ultimately, breaks your heart as the ties that bind unravel before your eyes.

Set in an alley in St. Louis, “Now and in the Past,” The Glass Menagerie reveals the layered dysfunction in the Wingfield household, helmed by matriarch Amanda (Sally Field) and her two children, Tom (Joe Mantello) and Laura (Madison Ferris). A gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor (Finn Wittrock) later appears, but it is the unseen fifth character of the father, “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances,” who looms over the proceedings like an emotional grim reaper.

Madison Ferris, Sally Field, and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie.' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Madison Ferris, Sally Field, and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Williams’ construct is quite simple, really. During the day, Tom is trapped in a warehouse job at Continental Shoemakers while his wanderlust slowly simmers away. At home, his recluse sister plays with her glass menagerie as his mother tries to pine and manipulate her way toward an idealistic vision for a charmed life for herself and her two wayward adult children. When Tom invites his colleague, Jim, home for dinner, Amanda sets a social entrapment in the hopes that the young man will find Laura suitable for the taking. Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans…

As narrator and son, Mantello is wiry, perhaps more middle-aged neurotic New Yorker than down-on-his-luck warehouse worker. Putting “type” aside, it makes no difference. Mantello bites into Williams’ language with a ferocity that some might remember from his Tony award-nominated performance in Angels in America. Mantello has no fear of unhinging Tom’s squelched life. And it helps that he has a terrific sparring partner in Sally Field.

Last seen on Broadway in Edward Albee’s 2002 The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, most of Field’s body of the work has been on the screen, both big and small. The two-time Academy Award winner and three-time Emmy Award winning actress as spanned half a century. Once again, the actress delivers a watershed moment, the culmination of more of a decade of yearning to return to the role, which she played at a Tennessee Williams Festival at the Kennedy Center in 2004. Gold guides her through a fluid vacillation between aging southern belle and contemporary matriarch.

Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in 'The Glass Menagerie.' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Making her Broadway debut, Ferris is tasked with perhaps the play’s most challenging role. Laura, often portrayed as waif-like with a non-discriminant limp or another physical challenge, is lost in the world of her menagerie. Drifting in and out of life’s social demands, it is easy to shroud her as a victim. But Ferris, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in her teens but hasn’t let that stop her from pursuing a theater degree from Muhlenberg College and moving to New York City, often as difficult to navigate as Williams’ masterwork. This conflict of strength and vulnerability sheds new light on Laura, who seems almost flippant at her mother’s eccentric pursuit of a gentleman caller. But Ferris tends to, at times, vacantly drift, nearly consumed by Mantello and Field’s master class.

But when Wittrock arrives as her gentleman caller, Ferris lights up. And who wouldn’t? He embodies an easy, All-American façade, but don’t be fooled by his good looks. Wittrock mines Jim for all he’s worth, clutching to a gem given by the playwright, who pegs Jim as a man in pursuit of upward mobility. Jim is taking a night course in public speaking, and Wittrock joyfully nudges this character detail to the forefront with a bellowing voice.

Stripped down to its bare walls, scenic designer Andrew Lieberman and lighting designer Adam Silverman create a barren theatrical landscape at the Belasco. But there is plenty to feast on in this eighth Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street, NYC
Through July 2

3 to See: March

March 7th, 2017 Comments off

Spring is around the corner and the means a whole new crop of Broadway shows bursting on the scene. Here are our three picks of the month:

Sally Field and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Sally Field and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

The Glass Menagerie
It’s Tennessee Williams like you’ve never seen it before. Sam Gold directs an all-star cast that includes Academy Award winner Sally Field, Tony Award Joe Mantello, Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in her Broadway debut. Stripped down to its electrifying core, don’t expect a flashy set typical of the Great White Way. Instead, Gold puts the Pulitzer Prize-winning play front and center, where it belongs. Following a few days in the lives of the dysfunctional Wingfield family, the memory play examines the family ties that bind and the cost to break free.

The Glass Menagerie
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street, NYC
Opening night: March 8

The cast of 'Come From Away' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Come From Away’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Come From Away
A sleeper hit that’s been inching its way to Broadway after record-breaking engagements in La Jolla, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Toronto, this new musical is inspired by harrowing source material. On September 11, 2001, 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were stranded in a remote town in Newfoundland. The locals opened their hearts and homes, hosting this international community of strangers—spurring unexpected camaraderie in extraordinary circumstances. Christopher Ashley (Memphis) directs.

Come From Away
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street, NYC
Opening night: March 12

Eva Noblezada in the London production of 'Miss Saigon.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Eva Noblezada in the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Miss Saigon
The 90s mega-musical returns with the revival of Miss Saigon, Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical. Featuring its acclaimed stars from the London production, Jon Jon Briones, Eva Noblezada, Alistair Brammer, and Rachelle Ann Go, Miss Saigon promises to wallop audiences once again with sweeping melodies and scenic spectacle (Production Design by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley; Design Concept by Adrian Vaux.)

In the last days of the Vietnam War, 17-year-old Kim is forced to work in a Saigon bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets and falls in love with an American G.I. named Chris, but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For three years Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he’s fathered a son. Bring tissues!

Miss Saigon
Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway
Opening night: March 23

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo

 

 

 

The Play’s The Thing: “The Glass Menagerie” Recoups Investment

January 9th, 2014 Comments off
The Glass Menagerie (photo credit: Michael J. Lutch)

The Glass Menagerie
(photo credit: Michael J. Lutch)

While new musicals like First Date and Big Fish have fallen by the waist side this season, American Repertory Theater’s production of The Glass Menagerie has proven that theatergoers like their drama. The play, which opened on September 26, 2013, has recouped its $2.6 million investment.

From director John Tiffany and the Tony Award-winning team behind Once comes this new production of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece. Amanda Wingfield (Cherry Jones) is a southern belle past her prime, living with two grown children in a small apartment in St. Louis.  Amanda dreams of a better life for her shy and crippled daughter Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger), and so she pushes her son Tom (Zachary Quinto) to find a “gentleman caller” for the girl. However, the arrival of the gentleman caller (Brian J. Smith) sends shockwaves through the family, and causes cracks to form in the delicate fantasies that have kept them going.  A beautiful play full of poetry and longing (and on the reading list of pretty much every Theater 101 class in universities across the country), The Glass Menagerie makes its return to Broadway in a production that has had critics and audiences on their feet.

The production stars multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winner Cherry Jones as Amanda Wingfield, stage and screen star Zachary Quinto as Tom, two-time Tony-nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura, and Brian J. Smith as Jim, the Gentleman Caller. The Glass Menagerie has been featured on more than 25 “Best of 2013” lists, including The New York Times, New York Magazine, Time Out New York, Daily News, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, The Hollywood Reporter, The Record, The Advocate and Associated Press. The limited run will play its final performance on February 23, 2014.

The Glass Menagerie
Booth Theatre
222 West 45th Street
Through February 23

Review Round-Up: “The Glass Menagerie” Returns to Broadway

September 30th, 2013 Comments off
"The Glass Menagerie" (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

“The Glass Menagerie” (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

Broadway’s favorite dysfunctional family is back in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. What do the critics think of this classic tale of overbearing mother, waif-like daughter and handsome suitor? This is what they have to say…

“How can something be this delicate and this strong, so elusive and yet so tenacious? That question radiates from John Tiffany’s stunning production of Tennessee Williams’s “Glass Menagerie,” which opened on Thursday night at the Booth Theater and promises to be the most revealing revival of a cornerstone classic for many a year to come.

More than any interpretation I’ve seen of the 1944 drama that made Williams’s name, this “Menagerie” — which stars Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto in career-defining performances — finds the brute force in a play often described, a bit condescendingly, as lyrical, wispy, elegiac. Yes, the tapered fingers of poetry shape “The Glass Menagerie.” But when these fingers curl into a fist — and they do so again and again in this production, before you quite realize it — be prepared to have the breath knocked out of you.” The New York Times

“Memory floats on a giant plane of regret in American Repertory Theater’s epic and intimate production of “The Glass Menagerie,” trapped forever between a shimmering black sea and an endless void that even an infinite fire escape can’t reach. Tennessee Williams’ world of poetry and prose is presented gracefully, even wondrously, in this distinctive production — helmed by John Tiffany (“Once”) and starring Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto — that no doubt will have Gotham’s gentlemen and women coming to call, even if sometimes it’s just awkward and disconnected.” Variety

Cherry Jones in "The Glass Menagerie." (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

Cherry Jones in “The Glass Menagerie.” (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

“There’s magic from start to finish at the Booth Theatre, where the new production of Tennessee William’s great play about regret opened Thursday starring a superb Cherry Jones and a revelatory Zachary Quinto. It’s evocative, sometimes surreal and sublimely organic — the perfect package for a play about faded and frayed memories.” The Associated Press

“The overbearing matriarch in Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical classic The Glass Menagerie can, in the wrong hands, emerge as something of a monster. But as played by Cherry Jones in the magnificent and harrowing new revival… Jones, one of the greatest stage actresses alive, conveys this in a performance that will amaze even her most ardent admirers in its depth and compassion. Her Amanda is warm and funny and, without question, dedicated to her offspring; watching Jones scrunch her wonderfully expressive face into a broad grin when she is happy for Tom or Laura, you’ll bathe in Amanda’s maternal pleasure.” USA Today

The Glass Menagerie
Booth Theatre
222 West 45th Street

The Best Deal in Town: 2-for-1 Broadway Tickets this Fall

August 2nd, 2013 Comments off
The cast of "Big Fish," coming to Broadway this fall. (photo: bigfishthemusical.com)

The cast of “Big Fish,” coming to Broadway this fall. (photo: bigfishthemusical.com)

Seeing a Broadway show is a dream. (Unless it’s that disastrous 2006 production of Ring of Fire, but that’s another story — and this is about celebrating Broadway, right?) Besides running the risk of seeing a flop, you’re also going to put out some serious chunk change – triple digits these days.

Fortunately, NYC & Company, New York City’s official marketing, tourism and partnership organization, announced this week that Broadway Week Fall 2013 will return this year to offer theatergoers two-for-one tickets to 19 popular Broadway shows from September 2 through 15. Returning for its sixth iteration, Broadway Week was originally created in the winter of 2011 to boost ticket sales for Broadway while providing savings for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Through NYC & Company’s Broadway Week promotion, more than 300,000 theater tickets have been sold generating nearly $20 million in revenue. Tickets for Broadway Week Fall 2013 will go on sale August 19 at nycgo.com/broadwayweek.

“Nothing says New York City like Broadway,” said CEO of NYC & Company George Fertitta. “Each year millions of New Yorkers and tourists visit Broadway to experience the unmatched creativity and talent that define our theaters. Through NYC & Company’s Broadway Week two-for-one ticket promotion, we are giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy some of the best theater in the world at an affordable price.”

“Broadway contributes over $11 billion to the economy of New York City on top of ticket sales and supports 86,000 local jobs. NYC & Company’s innovative two-for-one programs benefit the City, the industry and, of course, the consumer,” said Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League. “Broadway Week has become a much anticipated fall tradition for everyone.”

New Broadway Week participants this fall include the award-winning shows The Trip to Bountiful and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella as well as the highly anticipated productions of Big Fish and The Glass Menagerie. So mark your calendar and let’s hope you pick a winner. We also encourage you to discover your inner Ben Brantley…  share your thoughts on your theatergoing experience on The Broadway Blog’s Facebook page. Who knows, maybe we’ll invite you to become a guest critic!

"The Glass Menagerie" (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

“The Glass Menagerie” (photo: Michael J. Lutch)

Shows participating in Broadway Week Fall 2013:*

• Annie

• Big Fish

• Chicago

• First Date

• Forever Tango

• The Glass Menagerie

• Jersey Boys

• Let It Be

• The Lion King

• Mamma Mia!

• Newsies

• Once

• The Phantom of the Opera

• Rock of Ages

• Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

• Soul Doctor

• Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

• The Trip to Bountiful

• Wicked

*Subject to availability. Blackout dates may apply.