Off Broadway Reviews
For this reason, Williams purists might cringe in fear while reading the description of the current production directed by Austin Pendleton and Peter Bloch at the Wild Project. Advance publicity describes the interpretation as if viewed "through the lens of a spooky dream." The advertising goes on to suggest that this version "borders on horror" with a new score inspired by The Exorcist soundtrack. In sum, the directorial tactic is promoted as "Wes Craven meets Tennessee Williams." Egads!
Mercifully, this Glass Menagerie has not become the stage equivalent of a slasher film. Tom is not an axe-wielding murderer, and Amanda has not become a filicidal Medea figure. To be sure, there are some ghostly elements. When he is not in a scene, for instance, Tom (Matt de Rogatis) lurks on the edges of the playing space. Similarly, Laura (Alexandra Rose) assumes an ethereal aura as she periodically appears staring blankly behind a scrim (effectively designed by Jessie Wolfram), and there are a few overwrought phantom menace moments when danger befalls the glass animals. Finally, there is a large, projected, out-of-frame photo to establish the spectral presence (and absence) of the Wingfield patriarch, "a telephone man who fell in love with long distance."
These visual and aural elements aside, the production's strength is in its respectfulness to the text. The actors do not overplay the subtext or portray the characters and nostalgic elements dripping with irony. In fact the directors and actors mine the lyricism in the playwright's words, and with apologies to Wes Craven, this small-scale revival suitably honors the spirit of Williams.
The cast is uniformly fine, but the actors still seem to be finding their characters. As Tom, the conjuring narrator and emotionally riven family breadwinner, de Rogatis is scrappy and feral. It is an interesting choice for a character conspiring to join the merchant marines. Yet the performance does not neatly square with the description of a frustrated poet (and as has been posited, a closeted gay man), who is referred to as "Shakespeare" by his less refined factory co-workers. Rose's Laura does not emanate debilitating vulnerability. Instead, she relies on gestures and facial expressions to suggest the character's acute social anxieties. Spencer Scott as Jim O'Connor, the Gentleman Caller, has the requisite charm, but he has not yet found ways to let slip the character's crushed aspirations.
The center of every Glass Menagerie is Amanda, the flitting, manipulative, and smothering mother of all mothers. Ginger Grace makes a valiant effort and generally succeeds. She effectively exudes the right amount of forced coquettishness, and she commendably conveys Amanda's raised and dashed hopes. In voice and presentation, however, Grace seems a little too East Coast. Occasionally, she emits a small snort when chuckling, and this is not wholly convincing for a woman who fashions herself a former southern belle.
Still, if this is not a Glass Menagerie for the ages, Pendleton and Bloch's version is a reminder of the play's power to cast a nostalgia-induced spell. Theatregoers looking for a stage thriller in the vein of Wait Until Dark, The Pillowman, or Killer Joe surely will be disappointed. Audiences hoping to spend a few hours with a classic American drama, on the other hand, will find much to appreciate.
The Glass Menagerie