The Glass Menagerie

A new spin on a Tennessee Williams classic plays with setting.

  • HANDLE WITH CARE Keeley, left, shows Darragh her crystalline playthings.

HANDLE WITH CARE Keeley, left, shows Darragh her crystalline playthings.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Someday we’ll see a stunning digital-video-saturated Glass Menagerie that reinvents Tennessee Williams’s classic memory play through LCD monitors and layers of sound and image. (Let’s hope we don’t have to wait for Ivo van Hove to do it.) Until then, there’s Gordon Edelstein’s interpretation, which situates the play as the drunken creative brainstorm of Tom (Darragh) some time after he fled his overbearing mother, Amanda (Ivey), and sickly, doomed sister, Laura (Keeley). This Menagerie may not be full-on director’s theater, but it is a refreshing approach that sheds new light on an overdone classic.

In 1944, Tennessee Williams’s self-described expressionistic play—with its slide projectors, underscoring and atmospheric lighting—was ahead of its time. Yet most revivals (such as David Leveaux’s soporific 2005 attempt) are stylistically timid, stuck in the past. Edelstein’s situates the play in a hotel room, where Tom pecks away at his typewriter and guzzles whiskey. This Williams proxy mumbles lines in tandem with his mother and sister, who materialize behind the walls of his room and enter for their scenes. The framing emphasizes the triad between the artist, his art and his past; it’s a cerebral approach but still retains poetic and emotional heft.

That’s because the balance between clever concept and impassioned acting is just right. Ivey’s earthy, scheming Amanda is tenderly maternal one minute, tyrannical the next. Darragh navigates Tom’s implied homosexuality with quick-witted humor. He calibrates his behavior around family members versus other folks, such as Jim (Mosley), the “gentleman caller” whom Tom brings home to meet lonely, disabled Laura. And the pellucid, trembling Keeley (last seen downtown in The Thugs) is almost unbearably effective as a girl destined to have her heart crushed as surely as her glass unicorn figurine will be broken. Although Williams purists may find that Edelstein’s framing device detracts from the text’s lyricism, we must experiment to keep masterpieces relevant. Tom Wingfield can be awash in memories, but the rest of us must move on.

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Laura Pels Theatre. By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Gordon Edelstein. With Judith Ivey, Patch Darragh, Keira Keeley, Michael Mosley. 2hrs 50mins. One intermission.