By Lucy Komisar
Dreariness is the design motif of Gordon Edelstein’s persuasive staging of Tennessee Williams’ 1944 memory play about a family trapped in unhappiness and illusion. Dreary dark wallpaper hovers over the single bed with a rose spread in the New Orleans hotel room that the writer, Tom (Patch Darragh), Williams’ alter ego, inhabits. The same claustrophobic space becomes the St. Louis tenement rooms he shared with his mother Amanda (Judith Ivey) and sister Laura (Keira Keeley) .
The mood created by designer Michael Yeargan is quite different from what I recall in an earlier production, where the writer was not a continuing presence and an all-white and bright drawing room – that said New Orleans more than St. Louis, was a cheerful place that seemed to hold memories and promise of a better life.
In Edelstein’s production, you know from the beginning that dark events will follow the dark décor.
Judith Ivey is superb as Amanda Wingfield, a Southern lady, gregarious, garrulous, full of herself and her past beaux, almost embarrassed to have had a daughter that lacks the social qualities she prizes.
Keira Keeley is subtle and moving as Laura. Her limp, the result of childhood polio, has so eaten away at her sense of self, that her real disability is psychological. She is painfully shy, with a manner half frightened, half apologetic, as if she is asking pardon for inconveniencing others by her physical flaw. In 1944, possibilities for women were at best limited. And for Laura, contact with others was so terrifying and disappointing, that she fled from the secretarial school that might have led to independence and self-worth, and chose to live in an imaginary world peopled by little glass animals.
Patch Darragh is brilliant as Tom Wingfield, the son who feels caged, working in a shoe warehouse to support his mother and sister. Amanda, a nag, is suffocating him. On the outside he seem withdrawn, but inside Darragh shows Tom to be boiling.
Peering down from the wallpaper, an unremarked portrait and presence, is the mustachioed man in a straw hat who fathered the children and then left them and Amanda 15 years before.
Is there a way out of this trap? When Tom brings home a work colleague, Jim O’Connor (Michael Mosley), Amanda imagines he is the gentleman caller that can transforms Laura’s life. Jim is a charmer, a power of positive thinking guy. Is he the one, or is this just another illusion?
This sweet, sad production admirably captures Williams’ youthful sense of entrapment but also, though it might not be what he intended, the desperation of women who saw themselves as essentially flawed and their salvation only in marriage.
The Glass Menagerie. Written by Tennessee Williams; directed by Gordon Edelstein. Roundabout Theatre Company at Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, New York City. 212-719-1300. Opened March 24, 2010; closes June 13, 2010.