Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Preview Thoughts on The Glass Menagerie

I know that I have already mentioned, repeatedly, that The Glass Menagerie is one of my very favorite plays.  I adored the last Broadway revival with Cherry Jones (you can remind yourself of that review HERE.).  When I was just looking over that review, there were a few comments that stood out to me after seeing last night's newest revival.  I'll make mention of them below, though these thoughts won't go into too much detail because I saw an early preview - the show doesn't even open for almost a month. Although the script won't be changing, maybe other things will.  So I'll only talk about a few things, and, of course, there will be a robust mention of my seat neighbors, who could've been the worst group of people I've ever been surrounded by in a theater...

I'm a big fan of Sally Field, always have been.  I freely admit that when Norma Rae or Places in the Heart (or Murphy's Romance, for that matter) is on tv, I stop to watch.  I was lucky enough to see her in Albee's The Goat and I thought she was fantastic - I was actually pretty blown away by her.  She did Glass Menagerie at the Kennedy Center soon after that and I could kick myself for not going, everyone I know who saw it said she was wonderful. I'm also a big fan of Joe Mantello - his performance in the revival of The Normal Heart is one of the best I've seen. The fact that he's my age (ish) doesn't bother me at all for the character of Tom - it's stated right up front, at the top of the play, that this is a 'memory play.'  So, as far as I'm concerned, Tom (as the narrator) can be any age, as long as he gets the feel and the language right.  More on that later. I've also been very impressed with Finn Wittrock in the few shows I've seen him.  And, I was thrilled to read that they cast an actress with a disability as Laura.  I thought that would lend some real authenticity to the production.

Concept and staging spoilers are coming, so if you don't want to know how this revival is being presented, you should stop reading now.  You have been warned.

You should also be warned that there is only one line to enter the theater, whether you have your tickets already or not.  So if your tickets are at will-call, maybe arrive an extra couple of minutes early.  They seem quite committed to the 'no latecomers will be admitted/seated' policy.  I was also a little taken aback by the sign in the box office that said this revival is presented without an intermission.  I don't think I've ever seen the play in one act before, but ok. When I got to my TDF seat in the mezzanine, I was a little nervous to see just one cafeteria-style table on the stage, along with a smaller coffee table type thing. The rest of the stage was empty and we can see the blank walls of the back of the theater.  It looked like we were seeing a setup for a table read of the play.  Hmmm.  I just prayed this director wasn't going all Ivo van Hove on me (I think you can probably remember how unhappy I was with the Arthur Miller revivals that van Hove directed last season, though my opinion was the minority). That kind of production is rarely my cup of tea.

I found this photo, unattributed, on the 'net. I will remove if asked.
And, I'm sorry to say that this one wasn't completely my cup of tea either. Although this director did not completely strip Glass Menagerie of all context, there was very little to indicate time or place, which, hello, I think a Tennessee Williams play needs. This play is purposefully set before WWII, at a moment of great upheaval in the world and inside that St. Louis apartment. Having nondescript but contemporary sets and costumes just invites confusion, in my opinion.  Though, if I'm being honest, there were moments that I was completely and totally on board, that the poetry and lyricism in the language needed no adornment and I was thrilled as I so generally am at a production of this play.  So I guess I'm a bit torn about the production as a whole.

Where this play differs from my least-favorite recent van Hove, The Crucible, at least, is that this acting is superb.  All four actors are doing fantastic work.  At the moment, though, they're not necessarily doing it together or at the same time.  In my review for the last revival, I noted "...they are working as a unit and this production seems more an ensemble piece than usual." That is not the case with this current revival.  I'm thinking, though, with more performances under their belt, they will develop more chemistry and more of a cohesive whole.  There were moments of great chemistry and great openness, but it wasn't sustained throughout.  Of course, the strange cuts and transitions probably didn't help.

Joe Mantello is a truly world-weary, filled-with-regret Tom, and he brings wonderful shadings and irony to his line readings.  He had a nice rapport with the Gentleman Caller and you can see a tender rapport building between him and Laura, but it's not quite there yet.  Madison Ferris, as Laura, is making a fantastic Broadway debut.  She has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair or is seated on the floor for most of the play - the ease with which she moves about her space is at odds with the unease of how she sees herself, and she is playing Laura with a clear-eyed strong, though flat, affect, in that she's the only realist in the play.  Tom and Amanda may talk about how Laura lives in her own world, but Laura is the dominant person in her own world and she calls the shots.  It's a different interpretation for me, but I really enjoyed it.  And watching her relax and getting into sync with Finn Wittrock's Gentleman Caller was such a pleasure.  The scene may have been less gentle and poetic, but more bald and stark.  It worked for me.  And Sally Field did not disappoint.  She was a funny, terrified, awful Amanda, all grasping hands and shouting at people as they walked away, but she was also tender and loving towards her children, underneath her fear.  I think that this ensemble will be amazing once they perform more together in front of an audience. And I will say that the affection they showed for each other at the curtain call moved me more than most of the play did.  Sigh.

Oh, but I hope they never have to perform in front of an audience like last night's.  Well, at least like last night's mezzanine audience.  How can I even begin?  The couple in front of me, who had clearly spent their Valentine's Day pre-theater time consuming lots of alcohol, were doing an Abbott and Costello routine for each other pre-show.  He asked her if she had ever seen the play before, she said no, he said it was one of his favorites, it's really funny. Then they proceeded to make out through much of the evening. The couple behind me, when they saw the slip of paper in their program that said there would be no intermission, were outraged that they wouldn't be able to leave at intermission.  So, ugh, this is what they did instead.  During the dinner with the Gentleman Caller, when the lights go out because Tom didn't pay the electric bill, the lights go out everywhere in the theater, too. While the characters were looking for matches for the candles on the table, for some reason, this couple (they were in the last row of the mezzanine) decided it would be the perfect time to get up and leave.  In the pitch black darkness.  And, I kid you not, one of them fell off the little step ledge into the aisle and the other fell over the back of the mezzanine railing!  There were yelps and thuds and the area around me was all abuzz with noise.  I guess the disturbance wasn't loud enough to reach the stage, but I still wondered if they would stop the show while all the racket was going on.  No. We all just missed the beginning of the Laura/Gentleman Caller scene.  Grrr.  Then, near the end of the show, during the quiet when Laura and Amanda are sobbing after Tom's exit, then Tom comes back in for his last, rueful monologue, someone's medical alert beeping kept going off. BEEP BEEP.  Then quiet.  Then Siri's voice saying, "I didn't get that."  Then people yelling at them to turn off their f*cking phone.  Then the people responding 'it's a medical alert!' Then BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.  And I didn't really get to hear "blow out your candles, Laura," which really just ticks me off.

So maybe the horrible audience didn't help with my overall enjoyment of the play.  Maybe I would've liked it more if I were closer, since the play relies on the dialogue more heavily than usual.  I don't know, maybe I'll go back, which sounds stupid after my complaints. But I would like to hear the last lines, for pete's sake, and to see how the cast coalesces and I'd be really interested in getting closer to that different interpretation of Laura and seeing how it really works.  I'm so happy the producers gave such a wonderful opportunity to an actress who might not normally have it.  I'll be interested in hearing other's opinions as previews continue...

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