Review: ‘The Glass Menagerie’ Returns with a Simple Beauty
Mark McLaren, Editor in Chief, March 9, 2017
After nearly six decades in film and television, Sally Field comes to Broadway in a tour-de-force role, played with a gentle and devastating accuracy.
The role is Amanda, and Field appears in what is a most interesting and satisfying production. Tennessee Williams’ mother is a milestone for any actor, and has been taken on by the likes of Booth, Lawrence, Hepburn, Hayes, Tandy, Harris, Woodward, Stapleton and most recently the powerhouse Cherry Jones.
Field, at seventy, arrives in the role at the Belasco in only her second Broadway run (she replaced Mercedes Ruhel in 2002 for the final two months of Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia) and while Jones’ popular Amanda is fresh in the mind. Out of Cambridge’s ART, the 2013 Menagerie came to New York with Zachary Quinto, rave reviews and a fourth nomination for its two-time Tony-winning lead.
But while the last production made nice strides in humanizing Amanda, this latest, very smart rethinking, moves Menagerie slightly out of the south and much deeper into the world of family. All family. The result is tender and substantial.
“Success and happiness for my precious children! I wish for that whenever there’s a moon, and whenever there isn’t a moon, I wish for it too.”
These aren’t empty words out of the mouth of Field’s Amanda, and in these words lie the heart of her effortless, tortured performance in Sam Gold’s subtle, minimal production. Madison Ferris is captivating as Laura, the family “problem” that in this production, it seems, becomes its savior. Finn Wittrock, as the Gentlemen Caller, delivers in every way that a Gentlemen Caller should.
Joe Mantello as Tom is, at first sight, the wrong man out. He is old for the role. He is also a tad “north.” The weight that he brings to the hard-drinking-(probably)-homosexual-writer-in-the-south-in-a-certain-age Tom is, frankly, light. Tom’s angst has traditionally been the primary driver of this play’s tension. Here, Mantello plays less angst, and more irritation. Irritation isn’t the stuff of great drama.
But in its place is something quite revelatory, and successfully unique. And that is the touching relationship that Field and Mantello have created between Amanda and Tom. It is less antagonistic than we’ve seen. It is less manipulative than we’ve seen. And it is completely gripping.
No son wants to leave his mother. Even if he must. So as Tom bolts, and as Amanda watches, it is wrenching to see. It is also a carefully crafted payoff at the hands of two extraordinarily talented actors.
Not wrenching to see is the work of the beautiful Sally Field. Her’s is not a large Amanda, but rather an Amanda as a common mother of transparent depth. As her children and life disappoint, and as she faces adversity, her pain is carefully internal. This isn’t a traditional Amanda, and Field’s take on the role is revolutionary. Triumphantly so.
But this should come as no surprise as Field has, during her career, demonstrated an impressive breadth of work in television and film. She won Academy Awards for Norma Rae and Places of the Heart (1979 and 1984). Her films include Forrest Gump and a sound comic turn in Mrs. Doubtfire. Her work in television has been equally substantial, winning an Emmy in 2001 for a guest appearance as a bipolar mother on ER that was can’t-look-away captivating. From 2006 to 2011, she sensitively lead a large, hugely talented cast as matriarch in Brothers and Sisters. Her bold and intuitive turn as Mary Todd Lincoln, alongside another rather formidable actor, brought a third Academy Award nomination.
So I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now. If you love great acting, then take the opportunity to see this particular great acting in this particular production. And while another Menagerie may have seemingly just left town, remember that “…time is the longest distance between two places.” Gold’s production and the work of this cast led by the astonishingly talented Ms. Field, couldn’t demonstrate the fact more nicely.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams at the Belasco Theatre in an open run, and directed by Sam Gold, scenic design by Andrew Lieberman, costume design by Wojciech Dziedzic, lighting design by Adam Silverman, and sound design by Bray Poor.
With Sally Field, Joe Mantello, Madison Ferris and Finn Wittrock.
Cover Photo: Finn Wittrok and Madison Ferris in ‘The Glass Menagerie; photo: Julieta Cervantes.