'The Glass Menagerie' review: Dreamlike
People actually seem to hang there on the stage, as selective and eccentric as memory, in director John Tiffany's unsettling, viscerally powerful revival of Tennessee Williams' 1944 masterwork, "The Glass Menagerie."
As always, the drama is identified as a memory play in the opening monologue by Tom, the playwright's semi-autobiographical stand-in. But this time, the storytelling has the surreal, otherworldly quality of a dream.
For example, after his scene-setting speech, Tom seems to be blown physically backward into the parlor, as though sucked back in time, to relive the stifling existence in the Depression-era St. Louis flat where his disappointed mother Amanda and crippled sister Laura hover in the golden light and scary darkness of Bob Crowley's set. Laura magically appears from inside the sofa. Amanda is summoned from behind a cupboard.
What could be ridiculous and mannered is, instead, bold and terrifically effective in this willful but fascinating vision by Tiffany and much of the team responsible for the enchanting Tony-winning "Once."
It helps that Zachary Quinto portrays Tom with the wary, restless humanity of a trapped poet, while Cherry Jones carves out a less delusional, more sturdy Amanda with kaleidoscopic layers of hope and bile. This is not an Amanda who breaks the heart with what she has lost by her own bad choices. Her pain has less of the narcissism and coquetry we expect in Amanda, and more of a nagging agony for the children she is incapable of helping.
We may certainly ask why Tom's drawl is as thick as that of his mother, who moved to Missouri from the South years earlier. We also wish for more relationship between Tom and his sister Laura, and between Laura and the mother who pushes Tom into bringing home a "gentleman caller" (Brian J. Smith) to save the fragile girl.
Instead, this is Tom's play, as it is Tom's memory, an interpretation that marginalizes the impact of Celia Keenan-Bolger's delicately breakable Laura, whose obsession with glass animals should be the metaphor of the play.
On the other hand, Tom does get to imagine her in an improbably fetching Tinker Bell dress. Every so often, sad reality is broken with magically surreal gestures -- Laura's fists seem to dance toward one another, Tom's fingers do a nervous jitterbug behind his back. A sliver of moon is hung in the orchestra pit and not the sky. Memories, especially ones this indelible, refuse to be ordinary.
WHAT "The Glass Menagerie"
WHERE Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.
INFO $77-$142; 212-239- 6200; theglassmenageriebroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Unsettling, dreamlike power