"Then go to the moon — you selfish dreamer!" screams Amanda Wingfield at her fleeing son at the climax of The Glass Menagerie. He did not, as he informs us, go to the moon. But in Tony winner John Tiffany's tender and moody revival for American Repertory Theater, he might have — the path is there in the tower of smaller and smaller fire escapes that reaches toward the heavens atop the pair of floating platforms and dark reflective pool that form Tony-winner Bob Crowley's set. In this abstract reproduction of Tom's shabby prison, with its beckoning escape, Tennessee Williams's timeless Depression-set "memory play" appears suspended in a somber universe — which, as it turns out, is exactly where it should be.
Do we really need to see The Glass Menagerie again? Well, yeah. This paean to fragility and endurance is arguably Williams's most lyrical work, devoid of the sexual hysteria that crops up in some of the later ones. It offers a poignant if sardonic portrait of a writer in the painful making — and of that immortal if antiquated Southern Tiger Mom whose time was crumbling even as she lived and loved it. Built on Williams's impossible if indomitable mother, Edwina, Amanda is essayed here by erstwhile ART leading lady Cherry Jones (READ our interview with Cherry Jones about her role). Even when her character is compulsively annoying, Jones gives off so much light that it's a wonder the dinner party even notices when the premises go dim because Tom has failed to pay the electric bill.
But two-time Tony-winner Jones, doggedly charming in her antebellum tatters, is but first among equals. Zachary Quinto, looking like he wrestled his pea coat and scull cap off Eddie Dowling in the original production, is a brooding if quicksilver Tom, his sad fondness for his damaged sister palpable. As Laura, who literally slides in and out of the play through the couch cushions, Celia Keenan-Bolger is a trembling whiff of a girl fiercely trying to come out of her shell. And Brian J. Smith is all bonhomie and compromised dreams as the Gentleman Caller. After a string of Broadway hits and two Pulitzers, Williams was critically trounced in his later years. And he did produce some clinkers — along with some worthy experiments derided for not being Streetcar redux. But this play, rendered with such vigorous delicacy, reminds us why he matters.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE :: Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St, Cambridge :: Through March 17 :: $25-$65 :: 617.547.8300 or americanrepertorytheater.org
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