Williams at the A.R.T.

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician.  He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.“

The opening lines of this well known play by Tennessee Williams are almost as familiar as life’s pervasive illusion of truth of which Tom Wingfield speaks, or the hopeless hope for gentlemen callers his mother Amanda has for her crippled daughter Laura.

Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura. Photo Michael J. Lutch

While The American Repertory Theatre may be known more for exploring the boundaries of theater than indulging its familiarities, their production of The Glass Menagerie, its first presentation of a Williams play in its 32-year history, offers plenty of challenge for the Williams-phile without disfiguring a classic.

Original music by the celebrated avant-garde composer Nico Muhly creates a contemporary, almost mystical atmosphere in which this semi-autobiographical story set in a particular time and place can more manifestly exhibit its mythical qualities.  Steven Hoggett’s bodywork offers inter-scene intrigue and suggests the Wingfields are engaged in a confusing and carefully choreographed modern dance.  Amanda’s slipping through the couch is almost as beautiful as Tom’s slumping onto it after a long night at the movies.

Cherry Jones as Amanda Wingfield and Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura. Photo by Michael J. Lutch

For many in the audience, the Wingfields will be well known.  Nevertheless, this cast’s embodiment of these familiar personas offers something slightly different.  Ambiguous, pigeon-toed disfigurement can’t disguise Celia Keenan-Bolger’s beauty as Laura; perhaps her mother is not so daft in imagining the inevitability of a caller.  Her mother, one of the more tragic and hateful characters in the American theatrical canon, is funny and almost sympathetic as played by multiple Tony and Emmy Award winning Cherry Jones.  Sprightly Zachary Quinto as Tom makes one wonder on which Wingfield sibling the gentleman caller might be calling.  And Brian J. Smith is just as innocent and kind and too-good-to-be-true as any mother could dream for her daughter’s caller.

In an interview with A.R.T. dramaturg Ryan McKittrick, John Tiffany, director of last year’s Tony Award winning Once and this, his dream project, said, “I feel very connected to what Tennessee Williams writes in The Glass Menagerie because it’s about fragility and it’s about people.  What he’s trying to say is that the world should be a place where damaged people like these can live, and it’s a disaster that it isn’t.”

That disastrous living room in which the Wingfields lives come unwound, becomes, Tiffany recognizes, the setting for a much larger (and more hopeful?) story, in which we come to explore the differences between hope and reality, truth and illusion.  Turns out it’s a tricky thing, life.

Performances run Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30pm; Saturdays and Sundays (2/9-3/17) at 2:00pm; and Wednesday matinees (2/20-3/13 at 2:00pm.  Single tickets begin at $25 and can be obtained by calling 617-547-8300 or online at americanrepertorytheater.org

Jonathan Simcosky blogs at jonathansimcosky.com

* Feature Image: Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura and Brian J. Smith as Jim. Photo by Michael J. Lutch

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