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Wild Project, Manhattan, NYC

There’s probably little I can tell you about the symbolism, character complexity and modernist nature of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie that you haven’t heard from your high-school English teacher. What I can say that’s new is that this time, fittingly for October, the play is set to music inspired by “The Exorcist.” The Wingfield house adopts the aura of an old haunted mansion, its old wallpaper and broken furniture cast in chiaroscuro, rife with emotional demons chilling enough to rival any jumpscare.

Co-directors Austin Pendleton and Peter Bloch’s take on The Glass Menagerie runs in the same vein of the Oklahoma! revival in its focus on bringing the true depth of the text’s darkness to, well, light. Williams’ timeless, high-tension memory play is perfectly suited for such a rendering; its epic characters require no alterations to the script to fit the frightful mold. Tom Wingfield recalls his memories of his mother Amanda and sister Laura years after he’s left their home, particularly the days around which he brought his co-worker Jim home to court Laura, only to discover he was engaged. Tom’s resentment toward living a mundane life, Amanda’s unhinged longing for her youth, and Laura’s physical and mental fragility explode into one dark family portrait – and an excellently staged one.

Let me return to that word “timeless,” for it is the crux of what works so well about Pendleton and Bloch’s production. It’s not a modern adaptation, per se – in fact, watching their  Glass Menagerie feels like peering into a time capsule with period dress, set and accents perfectly intact. Yet, certain conversations about the latest local news and what it feels like to have a crush in high school sound remarkably like something one could overhear today. On a graver level, those acquainted with anxiety can recognize its tells in Laura when we learn she skipped school for weeks out of fear. Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of “mansplaining” might pick up elements of it when Jim essentially tells Laura he knows her better than she knows herself. (“You know what I judge to be the trouble with you? Inferiority complex… I had it until I took up public speaking and developed my voice, and learned that I had an aptitude for science.”)

Young adults looking to fly the coop and build their own life could find elements of themselves in Tom as he professes his longing for adventure. And heaven knows that Amanda is just one of countless mothers that persistently ask after their daughters’ love life when they’ve been single for a while – that’s timeless for sure. 

I am projecting, but my conclusions are far from absolute – the production’s subtlety about its themes allows room for everyone to draw their own. Pendleton and Bloch doesn’t shove Menagerie’s modern resonance in the audience’s faces. But somewhere beneath the repeated, antiquated use of the phrase “gentleman caller” and between the haunting piano notes that punctuate the characters’ despair, it’s undeniably, ominously there.

Timelessness is also personified in Tom, and Matt de Rogatis delivers an electrifying performance as the character. Tom’s role as character and narrator, as stagehand and symbol, gives him life in both his world and ours, transcending time. When he steps out of the scene to narrate, he takes on a persona not unlike The Princess and the Frog’s Dr. Facilier, characterized by dry wit, sleights of hand and a forbidding undertone to his words. Rogatis does all bewitchingly. Ginger Grace, too, is a stellar Amanda; she and Rogatis have the same power to make their characters simultaneously pitied, understood and feared.

They leave no layer of Williams’ rich characters unexplored. The result is a captivating show that glitters with pathos like light on glass. If you slept through your Glass Menagerie lesson in high school, come to the Wild Project. Allow yourself one more dance with Laura and Jim, one more bout of Amanda’s stories about her 17 bygone suitors, one more journey with Tom through the memory he puts before you. Any notions about the play’s age, dryness or inaccessibility will shatter.

  • Drama
  • By Tennessee Williams
  • Directed by Austin Pendleton & Peter Bloch
  • Cast includes: Ginger Grace, Matt de Rogatis, Alexandra Rose, Spencer Scott
  • Wild Project, Manhattan, NYC
  • Until 20 October 2019

About The Author

Reviewer (USA)

Gillian is studying journalism and theatre at Fordham University at Lincoln Center. She has worked as an intern newspaper reporter in Connecticut. Dancing, writing poetry, and Schmackary’s cookies hold special places in her heart, and she can often be found exploring Central Park or basically anywhere in the city she hasn’t been.

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