The winning streak of Sam Gold, who has become one of the most prominent directors in recent years (“Fun Home,” the plays of Annie Baker), comes to a screeching halt with a misconceived Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ 1944 breakout drama “The Glass Menagerie,” led by Sally Field.
This marks the fourth revival of “The Glass Menagerie” in New York since 2005, the most recent of which was just two seasons ago. Those productions were also marked by excessive directorial concepts and design schemes.
Conceived as a poetic memory play, Tom Wingfield (Joe Mantello), a stand-in for Williams, addresses the audience and recalls living in a cramped apartment with his domineering mother Amanda (Field), who prides herself on having once been a southern belle, and his painfully shy, physically-challenged sister, Laura (Madison Ferris). Drama occurs when Tom, at Amanda’s urging, invites home a “Gentleman Caller” (Finn Wittrock) as a suitor for Laura.
Gold, who apparently wanted to remove all artifice or period flavor, uses a bare, exposed-looking theater space, with just a metal table and a shelf of props. Stage lighting is avoided. No southern accents are used and the actors wear contemporary attire. Even the intermission has been removed. This all results is a painfully self-aware production that is devoid of Williams’ trademark lyricism.
Field plays Amanda with a strong whiff of kitchen sink realism. With the exception of her sudden appearance in a pink prom gown, less emphasis is placed on Amanda’s comically delusional behavior.
The casting of Ferris, who is physically disabled, as Laura is commendable. We watch as Ferris climbs up steps and gets in and out of her wheelchair by contorting her upper body. In an interesting but questionable interpretation, Ferris presents Laura as self-assured instead of delicate.
Mantello (who is a well-known director himself) is considerably older than his character, but that is not a problem since Tom is supposed to be looking back at the past. As Tom relieves the past, Mantello moves from a position of critical detachment to getting swept up in old emotions.
The next time “The Glass Menagerie” is revived (which ought to be soon at this rate), how about a simple production devoid of any self-conscious directorial concepts? Let’s give the play back to Tennessee Williams.
If you go: “The Glass Menagerie” runs through July 2 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., glassmenagerieonbroadway.com.