A perfect staging of Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie has been my theatrical Holy Grail.
Too young to have seen the legendary original with the mythical Laurette Taylor as the mother, Amanda Wingfield, I have managed to see on stage or hear on recordings more than twenty versions of Menagerie including Julie Harris as both Amanda and the wounded daughter, Laura; Jessica Tandy; Joanne Woodward; Katharine Hepburn; Gertrude Lawrence in a dreadfully strident film with an unsuitable Jane Wyman as Laura; Cherry Jones, fine as Amanda in a recent, gimmicky version; and a totally bizarre rendering starring Sally Field.
Each was troublesome in some fatal way: miscasting, unbalanced direction, stunt staging and disregarding Williams’ delicate, yet durable writing.
Not so The Glass Menagerie currently at The Wild Project in the East Village. Co-directed by Austin Pendleton and Peter Bloch, this is The Glass Menagerie of my dreams—impeccably cast, costumed, lit and thought out.
In the hands of Matt de Rogatis, Tom Wingfield’s opening narration and his closing monologue, both difficult to put across, were crystal clear and free from affect. He made it believable that the ensuing play was a “memory play” and, with his deeply moving delivery of the poetic ending that he was infinitely destroyed by the memory of his sister.
As Laura, Alexandra Rose found the fragility of this damaged creature caught between a fierce mother and a mind-crushing outside world. Despite deeming herself “crippled”—a fact not so subtly imbued in her by her mother—she is barely, almost unnoticeably disabled. Her “wounds” are emotional and spiritual.
Spencer Scott who plays Jim O’Connor, the fabled Gentleman Caller of Amanda’s hopes and dreams for Laura, is a dose of cool reality amidst the unstable family. He plays Jim as a good-natured, stalwart fellow which, of course, he is. His appearance is like a gust of wind that leaves the family worse for wear.
It is Ginger Grace as Amanda that is the crowning glory of this production. Though slender and frail looking, she is still a powerful, if bothersome figure, memories of a golden southern belle past clashing with her poverty-stricken present. Grace lives Amanda on the tiny Wild Project stage, making it seem large and teeming with life, although nothing really happens in The Glass Menagerie, nothing that is except the dissolution of a family.
Jesse Meckl’s sound design is period perfect with its choices of music and street sounds. Eerie, gentle music is also provided by composer Sean Hagerty.
This is the rare production that follows Williams’ explicit stage directions which include positioning a large photograph of the long-departed father who “fell in love with long distances” on a wall. This photo by Chris Loupos stares down upon the impoverished family from behind a beautiful, lacy scrim—designed by Jessie Wolfrom—which serves as a pretend wall in the Wingfield abode.
This scrim is part of Jessie Bonaventure’s purposely dreary set which includes bits and pieces of furniture that clearly had seen better days: dining room chairs missing slats, bruised rugs and ragged sofa cushions.
Costumes are supplied by Arlenes Costumes. The Depression-era outfits are well represented, but the best of the costumes, by far, is the dress Amanda pulls out of a trunk to impress the Gentleman Caller. This pink creation is the best I’ve seen, conjuring Amanda’s charming past—imagined or otherwise—with grace and attention to period.
Steven Wolf’s lighting follows Williams’ advice giving the proceedings a soft-edged ambiance, perfect for a memory play.
This entire production is a terrific surprise from its fine cast and subtle direction to its perfectly chosen production values.
The Glass Menagerie (through October 30, 2019)
The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.theglassmenagerieplay.com
Running time: two hours without an intermission