“Possess your soul in patience - you will see!”
This is what New Yorkers tell themselves while waiting for yet another delayed Subway. It also happens to be said by the matriarch Amanda in Tennessee Williams’ American classic, “The Glass Menagerie.”
The words of the playwright, known for other masterpieces such as “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” can be heard from the mouths of award winners, including Sally Field and Joe Mantello, at The Belasco Theatre in the eighth Broadway staging of “The Glass Menagerie.”
Mantello, a celebrated director himself, let Sam Gold call the shots and took to the stage as Tom Wingfield, a poet trapped working at a shoe factory, who searches for solace ‘at the movies’ and in the bottom of the bottle.
Mantello shares the spotlight with Field, who plays his aging and overbearing mother, Amanda Wingfield, a woman too invested in her children’s lives.
The 1930’s era drama centers around Amanda’s efforts to find a man for her disabled and ‘different’ daughter Laura, who, “lives in a world of her own – a world of – little glass ornaments…”
The underlying theme is Tom’s restlessness; a characteristic inherited from his father, who abandoned the family long ago. At the behest of his mother, Tom brings home a gentleman caller for Laura, Finn Wittrock’s Jim O’Connor, with disastrous results.
Laura, played by Madison Ferris, is a young actress making her Broadway debut in a wheelchair. It is a welcome change to see the actress hold her own on a stage not so welcoming to those with disabilities.
Ferris’ actual disability gives so much depth to Laura, who was written to have a ‘barely noticeable’ leg brace, and it makes Amanda’s illusions about gentlemen callers all the more desperate.
The darkness of this memory play is matched by the threadbare stage, accentuated by little more than a kitchen table, an old Victrola record player, and a neon sign. And while Williams’ classic has stood the test of time in its power and skill, the staging has sadly not done the work enough justice.
Nevertheless, Field can do no wrong, taking on the voice of an aging southern belle and embodying the shakiness of a poor, yet proud woman. Wittrock also delivered a fine performance, but as O’Connor was an intentionally two-dimensional character, not much can be said.
Ferris performance was also strong, with a fidgeting discomfort, but the emotion waned. Lines were spoken with a disinterest which missed the mark of Laura’s extreme timidity, but as a Broadway newbie, there is room for slack.
The same cannot be said for Mantello. Although well versed in Broadway theatrics, his Tom left something to be desired. His exasperation with his mother was palpable, but the schism between Field’s dedication to the Southern mother role and Mantello’s blasé stage presence was noticeable and off-putting.
He did not come off as a 1930’s St. Louis man, but as a modern Brooklynite. As Mantello’s Tom acts as narrator, a degree of disconnect is applicable, but there was a spark missing when Tom wasn’t yelling or tripping drunk.
The theatre itself also left an iffy taste in the mouth. While The Belasco is a beautiful venue, it is not the right one for this show. Much of the performance was conducted downstage, practically on the stage’s edge.
This was fine for those in the orchestra seats, but for those in the cheaper balcony seats, it was about two hours of craining necks and straining eyes. The lighting was also distorted from the higher viewing, causing a considerable glare.
That said, it was overall a strong showing. It is worth seeing, but it’s also worth springing for the better seats.
“The Glass Menagerie” will be running at The Belasco Theatre (111 W 44th St) until July 2nd. Find tickets here.[Feature Image Courtesy NYTix]