Apparently, Broadway audiences can’t get enough of the Wingfield family and their gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor (Finn Witrock). Over the years, numerous actors have portrayed the role of Amanda Wingfield: Julie Harris, Jessica Tandy, Jessica Lange, and more recently, Cherry Jones in the 2013 revival.
Four years later, Sally Field returns to Broadway as the conflicted, self-deluded maternal figure in an extremely sparse, stripped down version of Tennessee Williams‘ The Glass Menagerie. Director Sam Gold leaves his usual minimalist imprint at the Belasco theater. Gold, whose previous works have included The Flick, The Realistic Joneses, and the current, A Doll’s House Part 2, is extremely adept at allowing actors to find their own voices. As witnessed by his Tony award for Fun Home, Gold knows how to scrap the spectacle in order to glean concentrated meaning from the text.
Yet this version of Williams’ classic feels a bit too barren and hollow. Most are familiar with the story, but for those who are not, here is a brief synopsis: Amanda Wingfield (Sally Field) is a faded Southern Belle who lives across the Paradise bar with her son, Tom (Joe Mantello) and daughter, Laura (Madison Ferris). The single mother wishes more than anything to find an acceptable suitor for the terribly shy Laura and has high hopes that it will be Jim (Finn Wittrock), a co-worker of Tom’s who also happened to attend the same school as Laura and Jim. It is a memory play and Tom serves as both the narrator and a character in the story.
Two time Academy Award and three time Emmy award winner Field is a compelling presence here and proves that she is comfortable both on screen and stage. She strikes a perfect tone in the overbearing quality that Amanda possesses over her own life and those of her children. Mantello and Wittrock, who are both fine actors, seem a bit too contemporary, however for 1947 St. Louis.
The real break-out star of this production is Ferris, a recent college graduate who is making her Broadway debut. True. She is a phenomenal actor, but it is her journey to the Great White Way that is even more inspiring. Ferris was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a teenager, but has persevered to make her dream a reality. Much debate has been discussed on Gold’s decision to cast a wheelchair bound individual. Is it exploitative? Does it make sense, given the fact that Williams’ description only conveys a point that she only has a “hardly noticeable defect?” Personally, I find it–and her–nothing short of astonishing. Her vulnerability brings a rich dimension to Laura and makes her character all the more heartbreaking. For that, I commend Gold.
Near the middle of the two hour drama, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the ultra-hipster choice of dinner music. As the four sit down to the long awaited meal, rain begins pouring down (a nice touch from scenic designer Andrew Lieberman), and Daniel Johnston’s folk song, “True Love Will Find You in the End” began to swell. It made me wonder whether or not the Wingfield family emigrated to Willamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition, the rest of Lieberman’s set is completely empty. Aside from a table and four chairs, there is nothing else on stage.
Still, there is profound sadness and beauty in Williams’ tale which reinforces the reasons why artists return to it. This might not be the finest production, but there are much worse shows currently occupying other theater spaces within the city.
The Glass Menagerie runs through July 3rd at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre (West 44th between 6th and Broadway). For tickets and information, click here.