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Thu February 14, 2013
Weekend Arts Preview: A Family Drama and a Fabulous Farce
Looking for something to do this weekend? Why not step out to see "The Glass Menagerie" or "Mildred Fierce," Jared Bowen's two picks from the Boston theater scene this week?
Nothing says love on Valentines Day like Tennessee Williams, family havoc, and despair. But despite the macabre tone of the play, if you want to take your loved one to a truly fantastic show, you should take them to see “The Glass Menagerie.” The production’s success starts with the play’s director, John Tiffany, who won a Tony for Best Director of a Musical this year for his work on the play “Once.”
The play follows single mother Amanda Wingfield in St. Louis who is struggling to provide for her family after the depression. Her daughter is emotionally crippled, and her son would rather pursue his poetry than help support the family. In an effort to help the family, Amanda Wingfield seeks a parade of gentleman callers who could sweep her daughter away to a better life.
After deciding to tackle the production, Tiffany persuaded actress Cherry Jones, best known for playing the president on television’s 24, to play Amanda Wingfield. In Jones’ hands, the character — who is usually played as an overbearing monster — becomes a woman hollowed out by suffering. Jones, who grew up in Tennessee, said she based her performance on women she knew in her childhood.
“But once you get into the cotton belt, it’s a whole other dialect. And it’s a sound that to me is like locusts and crickets and peepers and soft summer nights and there’s a melody to it and a gentleness. And these were enlightened women in may ways —the women I grew up with,” Jones said. “I’m not saying Amanda is that way. But she is of that generation. So I do carry that in me. And I respect it and I hold it dear.”
The play also stars Zachary Quinto as Tom, Amanda Wingfield’s self-indulgent son. Quinto, who is best known for playing Spock in the recent Star Trek movie, said that the autobiographical nature of the play, which was Tennessee Williams’ first work, inspired his performance.
“I love knowing how he struggled and these words came out of real struggle for him. That for me is something that means more. And that we are conduits, conduits to that struggle and conduits to something that was bigger than him,” Quinto said. “People that talented, they don’t, that energy doesn’t just leave the earth when they do. I believe. They have to go somewhere.”
Williams meant this play to be a collection of Tom’s memories, and you truly feel that in the A.R.T.’s production. The cast creates pockets on the stage, a small set while the rest of the stage is enveloped in blackness — creating the illusion that you’re diving into the recesses of Tom’s mind.
This hilarious production is a parody of “Mildred Pierce,” the 1945 Joan Crawford film about a newly divorced woman striving for success but failing to win the approval of her selfish daughter. In the Gold Dust Orphan’s recreation, Mildred Fierce is a woman desperate to retain her upper crust lifestyle despite being estranged from her husband.
The title role is played ingeniously by Varla Jean Merman, a famous drag queen — or gender illusionist, if you will. Merman’s nuanced performance lends an emotional and artistic thread to the otherwise raunchy and bawdy play.