Saturday, April 3, 2010



The Glass Menagerie
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Starring Judith Ivey, Patch Darragh, Keira Keeley, Michael Mosley

March 5-June 13, 2010
Laura Pels Theater
111 West 46th Street

Thanks to director Gordon Edelstein, The Glass Menagerie emerges as a classic play that remains indestructible, surviving the sort of directorial misconduct usually heaped on Shakespeare.

Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical drama concerns Tom Wingfield, a warehouse worker and would-be writer who narrates the story of his relationships with his domineering mother Amanda and painfully shy sister Laura at the tenement apartment they shared in St. Louis. When Tom brings home a friend from work, Jim, to meet Laura, but his sister and mother hope that he will become the realization of dreams which are destined to be shattered, just like Laura’s colorful collection of glass animals.

Through Tom’s narration, Williams has already planted in the script itself that this is a memory play. So when Edelstein frames his version by showing Tom as a writer in a rundown hotel room feverishly typing his story—which he reads aloud from his own script, sometimes even echoing the dialogue of the other characters—it’s pretty much the most pointless and redundant directorial intrusion in recent memory.

Edelstein’s The Glass Menagerie is instead a memory play of the most obvious kind, set in the single dingy hotel room which doubles as the Wingfield’s residence. Missing the terrace and fire escape which are integral to the play, this staging plays out in a musty room that has a bed, a writing desk, a victrola and a small table with chairs, all of which unsatisfactorily stand in for their dilapidated but genteel home. And Laura’s menagerie, which is thoughtlessly confined to that desk next to Tom’s typewriter, never has the chance to become anything more than a mere afterthought.

In such a rudderless production, the actors must be counted on to snap the play back into focus, but that’s not forthcoming here. Patch Darragh has neither the charm nor the bearing that Tom minimally needs, relying on sarcastic replies and outbursts which are more Edelstein than Williams. The nuances of this young man, trying to exorcise so many personal demons, are beyond him.

Keira Keeley lays on the pathos of the troubled Laura with a trowel, mitigating sympathy for her. And her limp is so pronounced that it becomes absurd when everyone else remarks upon it being barely noticeable. At least when Michael Mosley’s Jim appears, his energetically one-note performance nudges Keeley to rein in her whininess, resulting in this production’s most effective scene. (Of course, the writing has a lot to do with it.)

Although Judith Ivey commands the stage as Amanda, with her cartoonish Southern accent and constant bellowing add up to a colorful caricature, not one of Williams’ most fully-realized characters. Edelstein has treated The Glass Menagerie like Laura’s poor unicorn.

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