Tennessee Williams Hub
BY NAVEEN KUMAR
Director John Tiffany’s stylish and superbly acted revival of The Glass Menagerie opened on Broadway last week at the Booth Theatre. Arriving on Broadway after a critically acclaimed run at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, the production is at once faithful to Tennessee Williams’ specific ideas about how the play ought to be performed, and unmistakably revelatory.
The 1944 work that launched Williams’ career is a not so thinly veiled autobiographical account with parallels to his own family life, which the writer deems a ‘memory play.’ Tom (played here by Zachary Quinto) acts as narrator, looking back on memories of his somewhat delusional and heartily overbearing mother Amanda (Cherry Jones), and physically impaired, isolated sister Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger).
Cooped up together in a middle-class tenement of St. Louis during the height of the Great Depression, the Wingfield family inches by on Tom’s warehouse salary, their father having left when the children were young. Amanda’s nostalgia for her glory days as a Southern belle blends with her aspirations for her daughter Laura, so painfully shy that her prospects for finding either a job or a husband to support her seem dire.
In his production notes for the play, Williams writes: “Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth.” Tiffany’s use of stylized movement and other carefully conceived ‘unconventional’ elements is both imaginative and precise. Taken together, the overall effect is an evocation of memories so far removed and yet immediate that the play feels like a vivid dream—with emotional truth never far from the surface.
With a softly lilting Southern cadence, Quinto brings out the poetry in Williams’ language to captivating effect. As a son (and grown man) looking back on loved ones he left behind and alternately reliving his past, Quinto registers a rich spectrum of regret, restlessness, filial affection, and an unspoken, deeply disguised longing. A frustrated poet widely accepted as a stand-in for Williams, Tom's buried desire is often interpreted as homosexual, as it is quite subtly here.
With her performance as Amanda, Ms. Jones demonstrates why she is rightfully among the most celebrated stage actors of her (or really, anyone’s) generation. By turns tender and smothering, pragmatic and delusional, and garrulous without turning shrill—her Amanda quite viscerally inspires the same complex gambit of emotions with which anyone who has a mother is familiar.
Amanda’s assessment of her daughter, that “still water runs deep,” may never have seemed more true. Ms. Keenan-Bolger’s careful, heartfelt performance as Laura hints at the elaborate emotional turmoil swirling underneath her surface stillness. It’s a metaphor that encompasses Tiffany’s production, itself set on a small collection of rooms surrounded by dark waters—a family marooned.
Brian J. Smith is likewise excellent as Jim, the long awaited Gentleman Caller. In the hands of Smith and Keenan-Bolger, the oft-rehearsed courtship between Jim and Laura feels fresh and alive, with an enchanting chemistry that makes the play’s conclusion that much more moving.
Joining Tiffany is the creative team with whom he also collaborated on the Tony Award winning musical Once (with many taking home individual awards), including movement director Steven Hoggett, designers Natasha Katz (lighting), Clive Goodwin (sound), and Bob Crowley (scenic and costume). Together with a supremely talented company, they deliver a haunting and extraordinary revival that’s sure to become a benchmark for future productions.
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: michael j. lutch)
Broadway.com has got a first look at photos from the Yale Repertory Theatre's production of A Streetcar Named Desire including this smoldering shot of Joe Manganiello as the iconic factory parts salesman Stanley Kowalski.
If you missed the clip of Manganiello performing a monologue from the film that I posted the other day, you can check it out HERE.
(photo by Carol Rosegg)
Joe Manganiello summons some blistering intensity for a one-minute Stanley Kowalski monologue from Tennessee Williams classic play A Streetcar Named Desire, for the NYT 'In Performance' video series. How'd he do?
Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...
The revival of Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie starts previews tonight on Broadway, and Zachary Quinto, who plays Tom Wingfield in the play, has been Instagram-ing a few backstage photos of himself with the cast, Cherry Jones, and Celia Keenan-Bolger.
Wrote Quinto of the above photo: "face to face with tom and laura. @celiakb @menageriebwy". And of the one below: "last time for empty seats. @menageriebwy"
BY NAVEEN KUMAR
Since beginning his career as an acclaimed choreographer, a path which led to his Tony Award for Best Choreography for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2002, Tony Award winner and eight-time nominee Rob Ashford has more often taken on the dual role of director/choreographer. His recent musical outings on Broadway include revivals of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (starring Daniel Radcliff) and Promises, Promises (starring Kristen Chenoweth and Sean Hayes). Ashford's choreography is currently on display in Evita, starring Ricky Martin.
Scarlett Johansson returns to Broadway as Maggie the Cat in Ashford's
production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, following her 2010 Tony Award
winning debut in Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge. The
production, which opens on Thursday, also stars Ciarán Hinds, Benjamin Walker and Debra Monk.
This starry revival of Cat marks Ashford's first Broadway production of a non-musical. I talked to Rob about his approach as a director, and his experience working on both New York and London stages.
Naveen Kumar: In recent years you've directed a number of acclaimed productions of American classics, including Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (with Jude Law) and Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (with Rachel Weisz), both at the Donmar Warehouse in London. How would you characterize your approach to this sort of canonical material, with which artists and audiences are likely to be so familiar?
Rob Ashford: It's interesting trying to do a revival of a classic play. What I tried to do was go back to the original source material as much as I could, and also go back to the time when the play was written and try to get to what the writer was truly after. There's a lot of inspiration to be found by going back, and trying to figure out the original intention.
For example, with Streetcar there were five published scripts, and they changed so much over the years. Then the film happened, and the scripts adjusted to the film. So the main goal for these plays was to go back to the original source material and the original productions. Not being slavish to them, like 'Oh no, these are the first words he wrote, and these are the ones we're doing,' but just trying in a way to make it full circle, instead of stacking on other productions.
I didn't concentrate for any of these three shows—Streetcar or Cat or Anna Christie—on previous productions, I tried to ignore that. [On] the first day of rehearsal [for Cat], I said to the cast, 'I would love for us to take these characters off the pedestals where they've been placed and put them back into the play.' So, I didn't want to see anybody giving their 'Big Daddy' or giving their 'Maggie' or giving their 'Brick.' I just wanted to see these characters in the play, as if for the first time.
Read more, AFTER THE JUMP...