The lucky thing about the seventh Broadway opening of The Glass Menagerie Sept. 26 at the Booth is that there's no one still around claiming to have been in that number March 21, 1945, who saw Laurette Taylor deliver the Amanda of the Ages.
They took the memory of that "memory play" with them. What brings people out to see Tennessee Williams' tender, lyrical homefront paean now is what Tom Wingfield, in this opening narration, calls "the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for." In the context of his speech, this refers to a Gentleman Caller who will sweep his shy sister off her crippled feet and into a happy ending.
For the audience who shows up to see another suitor strike out, it's a persistant hope of seeing a definitive rendering of this moving masterpiece. And the first-nighters who showed up this time had higher hopes than usual of striking gold.
"I've seen lots of Menageries in my life, and I keep hoping that this will be The One," confessed Victor Garber as he penetrated the exciting buzz filling Shubert Alley. Susan Blackwell, arriving with her [title of show] playing partner, Hunter Bell, was operating on more than a half-tank of hope. "I saw this production of The Glass Menagerie, at the A.R.T., and I'm thrilled to be seeing it again because I. Loved. It. It's really remarkable. I was saying I don't think I've seen a production of it like this — I've seen many productions of The Glass Menagerie but one never so current, so naturalistic and stylized at the same time. I loved it!"
The wunderkinds in charge of this reimagined overhaul of Williams' historical Broadway breakthrough are committed to a deeper reading of the text than is usually the case, physicalizing words that have become part and parcel of our theatrical DNA. Director John Tiffany and movement director Steven Hoggett, who collaborated on Black Watch and the Tony-winning Once, apply themselves to unlocking secrets in text, bringing an astonishing freshness to the assignment.
To this end, they have hired a brilliant, almost idealized cast — Zachary Quinto is the surrogate Williams, a poet relegated to mundane warehouse chores in order to support his overbearing mother, Amanda Wingfield, an aging Southern belle with a coquette's grasp of the realities that menace her cycnical son and crippled daughter.
Act I wears the title Preparation for a Gentleman Caller, and Act II The Gentleman Calls. Brian J. Smith fills that bill with an empty bravado you can't take to the bank. Jones reluctantly admits that, despite the perfect fit, she had to be talked into playing Amanda by director Tiffany. "John is so collaborative that I can't honestly tell you where he starts, where I start, where he leaves off and where I leave off. That's the kind of director he is. He allows you to invest so much in the production and in each other that it's just this orgy of creativity — in the best way.'
Regionally, she's especially well-synched with Amanda. "I feel like I'm cheating because I am from the South — it does help," she allowed. "I love that Amanda loves those children. She will do anything to see those children succeed and to see Laura survive. She has a child who is incapable of surviving on her own. She has got to see her either get into a business career or see her married, and that's why, when The Gentleman Caller arrives, every egg is in that basket. The thing about the way Celia Keenan-Bolger and Brian J. Smith play it is that I think it's a first-class Menagerie — I know it's a first-class Menagerie — when you look at those kids and you think, 'They're perfect for each other. This could be a long, happy, happy life together.'"
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