Theater: ‘Glass Menagerie’ is fragile, not cutting

Cherry Jones, left, pleads with Zachary Quinto's Tom as tenuous matriarch Amanda Wingfield. Credit: Michael J. Lutch
Cherry Jones, left, pleads with Zachary Quinto’s Tom as tenuous matriarch Amanda Wingfield.
Credit: Michael J. Lutch

She’s a bulldozer. With her imposing frame and boundless energy, Cherry Jones seems capable of plowing down anything in her path in the current staging of “The Glass Menagerie” at the Booth Theatre.

But appearances are deceiving. As Amanda Wingfield, matriarch of a family of three, she steamrolls absolutely no one. She’s a tank with gelatin for an engine — and her two grown children know it. But Jones’ performance illuminates the terror lurking beneath Amanda’s gracious and grating veneer.

“Menagerie” is about Amanda’s obsession with seeing her daughter Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger) wed. It’s the only way the mother can see that her youngest is provided for after her failed attempt at business college. This leads to a desperate entanglement with a “gentleman caller” (Brian J. Smith), who appears in the final scenes.

Tom, played with passive-aggressive ambivalence by Zachary Quinto, explodes at his mother’s constant nagging. Laconic one minute, on fire the next, he’s literally driven to drink by Amanda. She chases him into the wild when she wants to domesticate him. Even poor Laura — crippled and unbearably shy — doesn’t fear her. She protects her mother when it’s within her limited powers to do so.

Tom, who doubles as the play’s narrator, says that what we’re watching is a memory play: sentimental and not realistic. Director John Tiffany, with help from scenic designer Bob Crowley, communicates this with a fire escape that whimsically leads to the sky, a reflecting pool that surrounds the Wingfields’ shabby apartment and a trick sofa out of which Laura makes her entrance.

This production is surreal and dreamlike, yet its heartbreaking story of unfulfilled dreams and inevitable disappointment is profoundly affecting.

‘The Glass Menagerie’
Through Jan. 5
Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.
$77-$137,
www.theglassmenageriebroadway.com


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