Tiffany’s Glass Menagerie is a mixed bag. Some things work and some don’t. The set is beautiful – a tiny flat in the middle of a black expanse of nothingness. There’s a fire escape staircase stretching up into the nothingness that looks a bit like a scissor lift and a sofa with no back behind the cushions that characters can enter the apartment through. The lighting is transcendental (Olivier nomination well deserved). And Cherry Jones, is, of course, fucking brilliant. This play is worth seeing just for her acting. Her Amanda is a wonderful portrayal of a glamorous, ageing woman whose life revolves around her family and whose world revolves around her belief that her family is reliant on her exuberance.
There’s something slightly off though – and not just in the depiction of Laura, which I’ll come to later. I understand that The Glass Menagerie is meant to be set in an intangible past that we can’t get back to. That’s why the characters wear what they do and the flat is full of rickety furniture.
Tiffany’s gentle editing of the text for the most part feels subtle and gives the production a nice edge. He removes Amanda’s use of the N-word and writes in ‘I’m gonna be the colored boy today’. He neatly shows us this dream-like American past with maybe a little too many overemphasised movements to express the idea that ‘time is the longest distance between two places’.
Something about the whole thing feels very muted. And I’m not sure it’s so much the fact that it’s set in the distant past but the way that past is used. Perhaps it’s meant to be easy to forget that we’re in the past. But when we’re allowed to forget it just feels like a blend of Noel Coward and Gone with the Wind.
That slightly muted, bland quality is probably linked to the depiction of Laura. There’s a heck of a lot of ableist content in the text itself.
‘I’m crippled.’ ‘Don’t say that word.’
‘You’re not crippled. You just have a slight disadvantage.’
For the second time in one day I’m writing a review of a piece where an able-bodied actor is playing a disabled character (and with an all-white cast). Ffs. The problem isn’t with Kate O’Flynn’s acting at all. It’s all in Tiffany’s choice to a) cast an able-bodied actor and b) ask that actor to use such a warbling voice. Before you @ me in a multi-tweet rant, I know a lot of it rests in the script itself. Laura has been deeply affected by her disability, to the extent where she is virtually a recluse. But the production itself feels desperately unedgy and notes about memory are only expressed through weird overemphasised, fake falling moments. Everything just feels slightly tame, to the extent where it’s difficult to tell if it rests in the gentleness of Tom’s memory or in the tameness of the play itself. I know that ‘the play is a memory’ but there’s no sense of voyeurism in the gentleman-caller scene. At the end of the day, Glass Menagerie is basically The One He Wrote Before Streetcar.
That being said, the second act does feel much more gripping than the first. Michael Esper is at times a little shouty but is also side-splittingly funny. I don’t think I agree with Harry McDonald that Cherry Jones is an actor with Presence™ but she does outshine the others by miles. And whatever my issues with the content of Williams’ time, the writing is filled with lyricism. Perhaps it only really feels tame and safe compared to Streetcar.
Favourite line: ‘I knew that you wouldn’t want to miss out on the wonderful serial starting in this issue. It’s by Bessie Mae Hopper, the first thing she’s written since Honeymoon for Three. Wasn’t that a strange and interesting story? Well, this one is even lovelier, I believe. It has a sophisticated, society background…’