Staying true to my Theatrical Plan to see a show a month, I headed to the city on Saturday to get in my September viewing. Since there was nothing special I was yearning to see, I figured my best bet was to go to TKTS, check out which shows were listed and choose something on the fly. It was my preference to see a play rather than a musical and it turned out my choices were limited to three. One of them was the newest production of Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie. For me, a no brainer.
I have been a fan of Tennessee Williams since we were first introduced in high school by my favorite teacher, Mrs. Daniel. I like the slow, southern heat of his words and the sweaty tension within and among his characters. I have read many of his works, most of them multiple times. My favorite has always been The Glass Menagerie.
Reading a play as literature is interesting. In one sense it is an easy read, all dialogue save for narratives that set the scene and establish the characters. The challenge of reading a play versus seeing a play is that it missing one essential element: action. Sure, our imaginations are limitless and we can breathe life into the words on our own. But a play is meant to be performed. That is its destiny.
Seeing a play “up on it’s feet” is exciting! You are witness to choices made by the director, actors, set designer, etc. that can completely alter your understanding of the story and it’s characters. This astonishes me because I can read a scene and think I understand its tone. Then I see it done live and find myself laughing when I thought I’d be cringing, moved to tears by a line that I’d breezed over or feeling tremendous sympathy for a character I had deemed unsympathetic.It is the magic of the theatre and it is exquisite.
As I’ve stated, I know this play well but I was unprepared for the richness of this production, magnificently staged at The Booth Theatre. It is artfully directed by John Tiffany who also directed the wonderful Broadway production of Once. The cast of four is superb. They each schooled me on characters that I thought I knew. I watched them step away from cliché into fully developed, conflicted, hopeful, broken human beings.
As the play opens, we meet Tom (Zachary Quinto), who describes what we are about to see as a Memory Play.
“Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings.”
His narration hints to us that this is a moment from his past that haunts him. This is the essential detail that I never fully grasped. It is clearly stated in the text but until I watched the action play out with almost mythical tenderness, accompanied by an achingly beautiful score by Nico Muhly, I never truly got it. Tom’s memory play is not a condescension or condemnation of his overbearing mother, his absent father or his painfully shy sister. No, it is a replay of a single moment within the confines of their home where hope briefly shined and then dimmed. Forever. It is an exposition of regret.
I am so grateful for having seen it. The performance concluded with a joyous occurrence, something that can only happen in the theatre: spontaneous, sustained, instinctual applause, all of us on our feet. Pure appreciation.
Go see The Glass Menagerie if you can! And look for Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto to be nominated for Tony Awards next year along with their director John Tiffany!
Photo by Michael J. Lutch, courtesy of theglassmenageriebroadway.com