Wednesday, April 8, 2015

THE GLASS MENAGERIE Opens Tomorrow at Heartland Theatre

It's not like Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie has ever gone out of style, but still... Recently -- or maybe since the Broadway revival that starred Cherry Jones as Amanda Wingfield and Zachary Quinto as her son Tom -- Glass Menagerie has been hotter than hot.

Heartland Theatre's production, which opens tomorrow night with a "pay what you can preview," is directed by Don LaCasse, the Illinois State University professor at the helm of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Lynn Nottage's musing on what it meant to be an African-American movie star in the first half of the 20th century, last fall for ISU, and Douglas Post's psychological mystery Earth and Sky for Heartland last season. The Glass Menagerie is considerably different from either of those shows, although it does have strong female characters in common with the other two.

LaCasse directs ISU professor Connie de Veer as Amanda Wingfield, the lapsed Southern belle who despairs of understanding her children or the place her life has led her. The Glass Menagerie offers de Veer a chance to take on one of the biggest roles in the American theatrical canon, one originated by the legendary Laurette Taylor and revived on stage by the likes of Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris, Jessica Lange, and, as mentioned above, the amazing Cherry Jones. Joanne Woodward played Amanda in a very well-received 1987 film directed by her husband Paul Newman, while Shirley Booth and Katharine Hepburn were very different Amandas in very different versions of the play produced for television.

The actors who have played Tom, the stand-in role for Tennessee Williams himself, are also a Who's Who of the American stage, from Eddie Dowling, who produced and directed the 1945 Chicago production that put the play on the map and then moved to Broadway; to Montgomery Clift, George Grizzard, Hal Holbrook, Željko Ivanek, John Malkovich, Rip Torn and Sam Waterston. And, of course, Zachary Quinto, the new Spock, who was opposite Cherry Jones.

For LaCasse's production, Tom will be played by Joe Faifer, a fine actor who graced ISU stages in roles as disparate as inebriated old actor Selsdon Mowbray in Noises Off, an innocent man sent to Death Row in The Exonerated and a father slipping into dementia in Tales of the Lost Formicans.

That's the beauty of The Glass Menagerie and why it's such a great choice for all these revivals and reimaginings -- the characters are so strong and yet so flexible that every production is a little different, each providing a new lens to see the play. Joanne Woodward and John Malkovich make for a unique mother and son, just as Laurette Taylor and Eddie Dowling did before them. And de Veer and Faifer will at Heartland.

They will be joined at Heartland by Elsa Torner, who played Christina, the youngest Mundy sister in ISU's recent Dancing at Lughnasa, as Laura, Tom's fragile sister, while Patrick Riley, seen to good advantage in The Marriage of Bette and Boo and Playboy of the Western World in Westhoff Theatre, as Jim, the would-be suitor Tom brings home after pressure from his mother to provide a "Gentleman Caller" for his sister.

After tomorrow's "pay what you can" preview, The Glass Menagerie will continue at Heartland Theatre on June 10 and 11; 16, 17, 18 and 19; and 23, 24, 25 and 26, with evening performances at 7:30 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. The cast will be present for a talkback after the matinee on the 19th to answer questions about how they approached their roles and why this play continues to exert such a strong influence in American theatre.

Follow these links for more information on showtimes and reservations.


  1. It's really true what you say about each cast providing its own angle on the play. I recall also a Steppenwolf production some years back, with Molly Regan as Amanda and Martha Plimpton as Laura. And the first film version (which I once saw on TCM) had Gertrude Lawrence (!), Jane Wyman, Kirk Douglas, and Arthur Kennedy.

    I really love the most recent movie. Paul Newman did a really fine job of directing it; Joanne Woodward, Karen Allen, and James Naughton are all lovely; and I think it's the best evidence on film of what a great actor John Malkovich can be.

  2. I did not see the Gertrude Lawrence one -- she seems an odd choice and I know Williams had problems with it, but that may have had more to do with the sorta/kinda happy ending they tacked on that one than with Gertrude Lawrence. But I thought the Joanne Woodward/John Malkovich/Karen Allen/James Naughton film was really special. Not only did it convince me that John Malkovich was a fine actor, but that Paul Newman was a terrific director.

  3. There's an interesting book about the filming, "No Tricks in My Pocket" (a line from the play). One fascinating behind-the-scenes bit for me was the way Newman had to talk to each of the actors differently. He had a shorthand with his wife of course; he knew he had to let Malkovich have and try out his nutty "ideas" each day of rehearsal, in order for him to sift through them all and end up with the beautifully simple (but layered) end product; and he had to find a way to include and encourage James Naughton when he was in fact instinctively right from the first day (and yet if you tell an actor that, you risk his trying to freeze and "imitate" his own performance). Good stuff.

    I also like the way that Henry Mancini's unobtrusive score for the movie actually serves as a carrier for Paul Bowles's music for the original production of the play.