Posts Tagged ‘the glass menagerie’

Performance diary: THE GLASS MENAGERIE

September 20, 2013

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9.14.13 —  Everybody remembers the last five minutes of The Glass Menagerie, but I’ve never seen a production that placed such careful and meaningful emphasis on the first five minutes as John Tiffany’s revival currently on Broadway. I guess I’ve heard it a bunch of times, but I could never have told you that Tom Wingfield’s opening soliloquy describes economic conditions in the 1930s, “when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind. Their eyes had failed them or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy.” I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that his mother Amanda would describe one of her suitors as “The Wolf of Wall Street” (the name of Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming film, starring Leonard DiCaprio and set in the contemporary world of securities fraud). Most of all, Tiffany and his key collaborators – choreographer/movement designer Steven Hoggett and set/costume designer Bob Crowley – combine the “memory play” aspect of Glass Menagerie with Tom’s mention of “tricks up his sleeve” to frame the naturalistic family scenes at the heart of the play with inventive, sometimes downright peculiar visual effects. As with Once and The Black Watch, the shows that put the team of Tiffany and Hoggett on the map in New York,  scene changes and transitions often involve the actors performing strange abstract gestural “dances”: Tom is drawn from the fire escape into the living room backwards as if memory exerted a literally magnetic pull; “setting the table” becomes a curious ethnographic tribal rite; and without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say Laura has never made an entrance before the way she does here.

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The production concept is strong and remarkable because it doesn’t get in the way of the actors but gives them something extra on their plate, so they go about their business (on a tiny island of tenement surrounded by Crowley’s lake of black goo) a little bit like naturalistic actors but also a little bit like performance artists. I think Tennessee Williams would have approved. His introductory stage directions explicitly state, “The scene is memory and is therefore non-realistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart. The interior is therefore rather dim and poetic.”

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The actors are all terrific. Although Cherry Jones didn’t erase my memories of previous Amandas (Jessica Tandy, Jessica Lange, Judith Ivey), it didn’t remind me of any previous Cherry Jones performances, it’s completely created in the moment, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget her shattering delivery of the simple line “Betty who?” Amanda Plummer set a high-water mark for me playing Laura opposite Jessica Tandy, but I thought Celia Keenan-Bolger was awfully good – troubled and stubborn and a lot less fragile than we sometimes think of Laura as being. It’s always tough inhabiting a character so ostentatiously representing the playwright, but Zachary Quinto plays a lot of colors: claustrophobic, poet, proud member of the working class, resentful yet loyal son, loving brother. And there’s an attenuated moment on the fire escape with Jim, the Gentleman Caller (Brian J. Smith, suitably operating on a different frequency than the Wingfields), that suggests some history of physical intimacy the play never otherwise makes explicit.

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The producers, by the way, have made available a thorough and informative study guide to the play – you can download the PDF here.

Performance diary: THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Keith Hennessy, FELA! and roller derby

June 15, 2010

June 10 – John Lahr’s scorching review of Gordon Edelstein’s production of The Glass Menagerie scared me away. But thanks to a last-minute urging by David Savran, I decided to go anyway, and I’m glad I did. The production, which started at the Long Wharf in New Haven and traveled to the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre (which I will always think of as the American Place Theatre), is high-concept Tennessee Williams. Edelstein sets the play in a hotel room where Tom is holed up with a bottle of whiskey and a manual typewriter composing his “memory play. It starts with him alone reading pages aloud and conjuring the images of his mother and sister, who are first glimpsed behind a scrim and eventually come to inhabit the room with him. It’s kind of ingenious and it works just as well as the traditional staging, where Tom inhabits some kind of poetic/theatrical space when addressing the audience that’s separate from the family-life reality. I didn’t love Patch Darragh’s performance as Tom – he’s a little bland, his Southern accent is atrocious, and he way overdoes Tom’s crush on Jim (the Gentleman Caller). There are things he does pull off, like the scene where he gets as close as he can bear to telling his mother he’s gay, underneath all the talk about “going to the movies every night.”

Now Judith Ivey’s Amanda – loved every minute of her beautifully created, minutely detailed performance. Often actresses don’t quite know how to play all the different colors of Amanda and so settle for a kind of average emotional tone, but Ivey dives right into every one of Amanda’s many moods without needing to create smooth transitions. She’s fake-treacly, she’s desperate, she’s furious, she’s insanely vain, she’s loving, she’s uncontrollably controlling. It’s been clear for some time that Ivey is one of the great stage actors of her generation, someone it’s always worth seeing. Keira Keeley is very good as the turned-in Laura, and Michael Mosley is terrific at capturing the callous after-bite of the Gentleman Caller’s high-octane charm.

June 11 – Keith Hennessy was back in town for a one-night-only performance at the New Museum called “Almost Nothing, Almost Everything,” an hour-long improvisation. Talk about a high-wire act! He sang, he danced, he gave Tarot readings, he changed costumes several times, he talked, he jumped, he stripped guest performer George Stamos down to his underpants, and he managed to pull a number of arresting images out of the air and then let them go. See below.

June 12 – I really wanted Keith to see Fela! and Andy wanted to see it again, so I got us good seats for the Saturday matinee. This show’s been playing for almost nine months, and you’d think they’d be slacking off a little bit by now, but just the opposite – everybody seemed to be working at 125%. It turned out that Sahr Ngaujah’s father was in the audience (he introduced his two fathers, his blood father and his heart father, at the curtain call), which might have had something to do with it. Keith was very impressed, and in my fourth time around I was still dazzled. What keeps me going back? I think it’s the way the show generates gigantic joy that is paradoxically fueled by massive amounts of grief, rage, and mystery. And I heard some things I hadn’t taken in before. I’d forgotten the whole teacher number and was struck hard by this line: “A bad teacher tries to make sense of everything.”

After an early supper on the roofdeck of Trattoria Toscana, we headed over to Hunter College for Gotham Girls Roller Derby. It’s not the sort of thing I’d go to on my own, but having a sporty boyfriend means being exposed to new experiences, and I like that. In advance, I was inclined to avoid roller derby because I associate it with campy costumes and faux showmanship, a la World Wrestling Foundation. At the actual event, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t more showy. The players all have crazy stage names (Beyonslay, Angela Slamsbury, Anne Frankenstein, and – Andy’s favorite – Em Dash, whose number is – ), but their uniforms are simple and functional, and for the most part they take their sport seriously. I knew nothing about jammers and blockers and still find the scoring and the skills a little elusive, but I came away with a new female sports hero: Bonnie Thunders of the Bronx Gridlock, a skinny blond speed demon who literally skated circles around everybody else on the court. The Bronx team played Manhattan Mayhem, who scored almost 50 points in the first 10 minutes…and then fell apart (there were a couple of injuries so maybe they pulled back) as the Bronx gals whomped them 141-59. The audience was a funny mixture of friends and family with jock-geek fags and dykes.

June 13 – Not much to say about the Tony Awards, except that when Douglas Hodge was named Best Actor in a Musical I wanted Kanye West to run up onstage and say, “We all know who really deserves this award!” And Memphis…really?

June 14 – Adam Baran and Ira Sachs’ really smart Queer Art Film series this month invited witty Wayne Koestenbaum (above left, with his boyfriend Steven Marchetti) to pick the movie, and he selected one I’d never heard of: Tony Richardson’s black-and-white 1966 Mademoiselle with a story by Jean Genet about a repressed schoolteacher (played by Jeanne Moreau at her witchy best) who wreaks havoc on a small-town with a series of perverse crimes that only Genet could dream up. She crushes four bird’s eggs in her hands and dumps the mess back into the nest. She holds a lit cigarette to the end of an apple branch. She stalks an itinerant Italian lumberjack (hot hot hot Ettore Manni) and eventually spends an outrageous night in the woods fucking him and playing S&M games before she has him destroyed. It’s a fascinating film about the sheer exhilarating power of pure unmotivated evil. Fun and sexy.

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