Review Roundup: ‘The Glass Menagerie’

The latest revival of The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ 1944 classic, opened at the Booth Theatre on Sept. 26 for a limited run through Jan. 5, 2014 in a production directed by Tony winner John Tiffany (Once). Emmy and two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones (24, The Heiress, Doubt) stars as the fading Southern belle Amanda Wingfield struggling to hold together her family in a stifling St. Louis tenement. Zachary Quinto (Star Trek films) is her son Tom yearning to break from his possessive mother’s grasp and two-time Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger (Peter and the Starcatcher, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) plays Laura, Amanda’s painfully shy and crippled daughter. Brian J. Smith (The Columnist, Come Back, Little Sheba) is the charismatic Gentleman Caller who might be the answer to the beleaguered Wingfields’ problems.

Tiffany is joined by the award-winning team of Once including Bob Crowley (sets and costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), and Clive Goodwin (sound). Original music is by celebrated composer Nico Muhly (the upcoming Two Boys at the Metropolitan Opera). This revival previously played at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. where the hit productions of Pippin and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess originated. Did The Glass Menagerie score as big a hit with the critics as those two shows? Here are excerpts from the major reviewers:

Celia Keenan-Bolger, Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto and Brian J. Smith curtain call at 'The Glass Menagerie' (Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

Celia Keenan-Bolger, Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto and Brian J. Smith at the opening night curtain call of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“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.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“In keeping with the strong, spare scenery, performances are lean and natural. Jones, a stage great who’s won Tonys for The Heiress and Doubt, endows Amanda with potent vitality. She can lose herself in the sweet-scented memories of jonquils and gentility, but she’s no shrinking violet. She’s fiercely maternal. Quinto, of the Star Trek reboot, streaks Tom, the stand-in for Williams, with exasperation and surliness. His cruel abandonment of his family in the dark is all the more credible. As the delicate Laura, Celia Keenan-Bolger draws you in with her transparent honesty. A simple line (“Mother, you’ve made me so nervous”) or lifting a typewriter shows how everything is a chore and painful. She has lovely chemistry with Brian J. Smith, who brings easygoing charm as Jim, the gentleman caller. The fall Broadway season has just begun. This shattering and shimmering Glass Menagerie is the first must-see.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“This revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie arrives on Broadway from Cambridge, Mass., with the excitement usually reserved for Breaking Bad and cronuts: It’s genius! You need it! Well, not quite. This is a fine evening at the theater, not a divine revelation. The show is a good take on Williams’ memory play, and Zachary Quinto and Cherry Jones offer interesting spins on familiar characters—even if Jones’ execution doesn’t match her concept of the role.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Director John Tiffany, scenic designer Bob Crowley, lighting designer Natasha Katz and choreographer Steven Hoggett—who all made the musical Once so special—have done it again, blurring text and music and movement into a fresh and flowing, intimate staging. There is nothing excess here, no look-at-me pieces to distract.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“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 [director John] Tiffany and much of the team responsible for the enchanting Tony-winning Once.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“A performance of towering complexity from Cherry Jones is flanked by equally illuminating work from her three co-stars, making this essential theater.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“Memory is a delicate thing, not unlike a glass unicorn. Tennessee Williams’ memory play The Glass Menagerie, on Broadway through Jan. 5 in an exquisite production by director John Tiffany, is just as fragile, striking a delicate balance between realism and stylized abstraction…The setting is both real and unreal, as are the performances by a uniformly excellent cast, with subtle choreography (by Steven Hoggett) that recalls the unshowy movement in Tiffany’s musical hit Once. ”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“Must every high-profile revival of Tennessee Williams’ 1944 breakout drama The Glass Menagerie be marred by an obtrusive and frustrating directorial concept or design scheme? True, John Tiffany’s graceful production is a vast improvement over the 2005 Broadway production and the 2010 Off-Broadway staging. But the excellent four-member cast—Cherry Jones (Amanda), Zachary Quinto (Tom), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Laura) and Brian J. Smith (Gentleman Caller)—is forced to compete against Bob Crowley’s chic but inappropriate set design, Natasha Diaz’s harsh lighting and Nico Muhly’s creepy, synthetic-sounding original music.”

Roma Torre, NY-1 News
“Too often, stage classics are handled, much like Laura’s glass figurines, with extreme delicacy. Not so this Glass Menagerie. John Tiffany’s bravura staging turns the revival into a re-discovery. Then again, this incomparable crew wouldn’t need much more than a bare stage to create the kind of theatrical magic so vividly on display.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“For those unfamiliar with the ending, suffice it to say that the dimly lit fire escape featured in Bob Crowley’s stark set design doesn’t lead Laura, or her mother, to a better place. But however disturbing, this radiant Menagerie will also leave a glow in your heart.”

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