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[Glass Menagerie.]
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
By Tennessee Williams

Featuring
Sally Field
Corey Brill
Jennifer Dundas
Jason Butler Harner
Directed by Gregory Mosher

Now through August 8
Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater
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PETER MARKS FROM THE WASHINGTON POST SAYS:
fields
Sally Field

“Fragile and beautiful, in all its facets…It is to Sally Field's enormous credit that Amanda Wingfield does not plow through the Kennedy Center's exquisite revival of The Glass Menagerie like a runaway bulldozer. Field's idea of overbearing Amanda is subtler than that: She's a woman of southern refinement worn down by poverty and worry. And she's oblivious to the impact her obsession with her reclusive daughter, Laura, is having on her son, Tom, who is suffocating in the cage of anxiety Amanda makes of their shabby St. Louis apartment.

Jennifer Dundas and Jason Butler Harner, as Laura and Tom, are marvelous foils for Field's Amanda, pushing back when Amanda's will of granite threatens to crush them, yielding when the mother herself appears ready to crumble. You have only to read the look of fear mixed with compassion on Dundas's face each time Amanda weakens, when her disappointment verges on despair, to understand how mightily the Wingfields fight to stave off despondency. And it's just as clear, in Harner's hair-trigger cynicism, how close to the flame they hover.

The production, directed by Gregory Mosher with a captivating intuition for the play's unerring emotional truth, is all about the zone of protection we attempt to draw around the people we love, and how easy it is forever after to be trapped between the impulses of self-sacrifice and self-preservation. Harner illustrates the seesaw battle of the heart in the wrenching moment when he rushes to Laura's rescue at Amanda's dinner for the Gentleman Caller. On a dime, his contempt turns to touching gallantry as he sweeps his crippled sister into his arms like a crumpled doll.

harner
Jason Butler Harner
A complete acting ensemble so attuned to the playwright….This Glass Menagerie, the last leg of [the Kennedy Center's] journey with Williams, leaves you teary and grieving for Tom's pain and Laura's heartache and Amanda's cluelessness. The cast works in perfect harmony -- Corey Brill is superb, too, as the blunt yet endearing Gentleman Caller -- and the balance allows every performance to stand glowingly on its own.

The semi-autobiographical Glass Menagerie was Williams's first breakout success, and though his subsequent A Streetcar Named Desire was the play that demonstrated the scope of his ambition and his genius, this production reaffirms Menagerie as his most moving and skillful play, one of the signal family dramas of the American theater. [Sally Field's] Amanda is no drama queen, reenacting for the captive audience in her dingy apartment the tragic story of her life as an eye-batting deb, who on one triumphant day received 17 gentlemen callers. No, Field makes of the character a real mother -- Amanda's maternal instinct has never seemed more fully developed -- who is in mourning not only for her own life, but also for her daughter's. "Will you? Will you? Will you? Will you?" she pleads of Tom, seeking his assistance in bringing a young man home to meet Laura. He flees the flat and she follows, falling to the floor outside their door, her voice pursuing him down the stairwell. She wins, but at the cost of energy and dignity.

Mark Lamos
Jennifer Dundas
She's physically tiny, too, which adds to a sense of vulnerability; Dundas's Laura is tinier still, a delicate woman who remains a shy little girl. When Amanda asks why she couldn't have children who are normal, the question is not revealing as much about her selfishness as her confusion: How is it that her life has burned down to these last few embers of hope? And why does everyone, from her husband to the acquaintances she tries to rope into magazine subscriptions on the telephone, run from her like the plague? Harner's intelligent, easily provoked Tom is both funny and perceptive. We don't know all the reasons that Amanda disgusts him so, but there's something ineffably authentic in his performance. It communicates the allergic reaction some children develop for a parent who's too much of anything: nice, needy, nasty, nosy. Dundas is Harner's polar opposite. Her timid, porcelain Laura is a walking invitation to smothering. The fascinating chemistry Dundas adds has to do with Laura's need to parent Amanda, to help her mother sustain her illusions just enough to keep the household going.

The web of dependency is expressed even in the wardrobe. For Laura's coming out, as it were, the dinner Amanda arranges for her and the Gentleman Caller, Jane Greenwood designs a gorgeous pink gown that smacks of desperation. It's intended for a ball, not a meal in a dreary apartment. Amanda gets gussied up, too, and her dress, dragged from her trunk, is a frilly bit of satire -- in it Field looks like a wilted tea cozy. But it's a measure of Amanda's (and Field's) generosity that the dress does not try to steal the limelight. The Glass Menagerie builds magnificently to the tender scene between Laura and the Gentleman Caller; Dundas and Brill play it gracefully. For once, you believe it when he tells her she's pretty -- there's even a real whiff of passion. It's so well played that the Gentleman Caller's hope-crushing knockout punch lands with an obliterating force. In the play's final movement, as Amanda absorbs the humiliation of this latest rejection and casts about, characteristically, for scapegoats, Field seems to shrivel before our eyes. The women collapse together in a little bundle, sadness piled on sadness. It's as if they're being whittled away, sliver by poignant sliver.”

CHUCK CONCONI FROM THE WASHINGTONIAN SAYS:
“The Kennedy Center clearly saved the best for last in its Tennessee Williams Explored festival— The Glass Menagerie is terrific.

This is one of the legendary playwright's most personal plays, and you are caught by the melancholy tone the moment Tom, Williams's alter ego, opens the play by explaining to the audience that he is taking us back into his memories of his overbearing mother and his crippled sister.

Brill
Corey Brill
In his sensitive portrayal of Tom, Jason Butler Harner deftly handles the anger, frustration, and love Tom feels for his complicated mother and shy, reclusive sister, Laura (played by Jennifer Dundas), who is as fragile as the animals in her menagerie but wise enough to understand and sympathize with her often-suffocating mother.

Followers of two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field's career won't be surprised to see how skillfully she handles the complex role of Amanda. Amanda has often been portrayed as a hateful dragon lady, but Fields, with director Gregory Mosher's guidance, sees her much differently. Amanda is still overbearing, lamenting her lost past of Southern gentility and gentleman callers, but Fields allows us to see the frightened woman whose husband has left her with two children she doesn't understand. She fears for their futures and tries to force her will on them. Her children love her but can't get near her.

One of the most moving moments is between Laura and the gentleman caller, Jim, ably played by Corey Brill as a young man with an exalted opinion of himself yet with unexpected sensitivity. He gives Laura a glimpse of the possibilities of love before dashing them all.

This production of The Glass Menagerie alone would have made the Tennessee Williams festival.”

JAYNE BLANCHARD FROM THE WASHINGTON TIMES SAYS:
“To play Amanda Wingfield, the tarnished Southern belle in Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, actress Sally Field appears to have altered her famous physiognomy. Her apple cheeks seem flattened by years of compromised finances and worrying about her "difficult" adult children, the restless Tom (Jason Butler Harner) and the remote Laura (Jennifer Dundas).

The Depression years and living in a cramped apartment in St. Louis (rendered in suffocating, faded mauve flower patterns by designer John Lee Beatty) have not been kind to Amanda.

That shows in the droopy way clothes cling to her slight figure, in her infrequent laugh like the crackle of dry leaves, in the fact that smiles are as rare as gentleman callers to her disabled daughter.

What remains in Amanda, and indeed has been Miss Field's calling card since her sitcom days in the 1960s, is an unvanquished energy. Where Miss Field exudes a quintessentially American vim and impetus, her Amanda is an engulfing vortex of nerves and niggling anxiety.

She is everybody's pushy mother crammed into a tiny, vital frame, possessing enough panicky energy to power the St. Louis skyline and then some.

So fierce is Miss Field's performance that you not only feel empathetic toward Tom and Laura for having such a mother, but you begin to feel hounded and put-upon yourself. Under the astute direction of Gregory Mosher, Amanda is not a witch in the "Mommie Dearest" mold, but the maternal instinct honed to an exposed nerve. Amanda's energy drives this solid, appealing production.

Mr. Harner as Tom, the stymied warehouse worker torn between providing for his family and striking out on his own as a writer and poet…is laconic and biting, a gently caustic portrait of frustration. Yet there is a courtly side too. In the scene where Laura falls, crippled by shyness when a gentleman caller named…finally appears, Mr. Harner scoops her up as if she is a rose petal, his love and devotion tremblingly evident.

Tom serves as the narrator of this memory play, which, he wryly notes, "is dimly lighted, sentimental...and not realistic in any way." He slips in and out of his reminiscences, recalling the fateful days when he laid the groundwork for fleeing like his father did, and when Amanda desperately tries to shape the future by trying to find Laura a suitor.

The gesture is, of course, a disaster, with Amanda, dressed like a ghost from the turn of the century, playing the Southern belle to a shrill hilt while her daughter cowers in a corner.

It is not a pretty sight, leavened only by the perfumed poetry of Mr. Williams' writing. Tom escapes by "going to the movies" (a code phrase for all sorts of goings-on) and joining the merchant marine. Though you can't fault him, the callous swiftness of his separation from his mother and sister is wounding.

Laura has her own way of escaping, with old Victrola records and her collection of glass animals. Miss Dundas' performance is electrifying and fresh in that she portrays Laura as completely removed from reality, but not in a romantic way.

Her shyness and sense of inferiority are not sentimentalized. Miss Dundas doesn't patronize Laura as some kind of little flower waiting for the right man so she can blossom. Her Laura is damaged and distant.

Mr. Mosher's straightforward, text-driven approach to "The Glass Menagerie" succeeds admirably, emphasizing the peculiar music of Mr. Williams' dialogue.

The only touches of fancy are movie marquees looming over the set, underscoring the play's theme of escape and fantasy, and a portrait on the wall that becomes an ever-changing slide show of images and motifs.

Yet, overwhelmingly, the play belongs to Miss Field and Mr. Harner as a mother and son alike in ways they would rather not admit. Familial love binds them in similar ways: It has made them merciless.”

J. WYNN ROUSUCK FROM THE BALTIMORE SUN SAYS:
“In Gregory Mosher's stunningly directed production, the play belongs to Williams' alter ego, Tom. Of course, to some extent this is always the case because the action consists of Tom's recollections. At the Kennedy Center…Jason Butler Harner's beautifully detailed depiction of Tom swings the emphasis of the drama unequivocally in his direction.

From his opening monologue, Harner makes the play his - a portrait of a young artist wrestling with a desperate need for freedom. Slowly lighting a cigarette while he holds forth from the fire escape, Harner immediately imbues Tom with sensitivity, warmth, intelligence and humor as he delivers Williams' poetic lines with a soft Southern accent slightly reminiscent of the playwright's own.

Humor may not be a trait generally associated with this bittersweet tale of a mother and her two grown children who fitfully cohabit a St. Louis tenement apartment. But the way in which Harner and Mosher gently weave touches of comedy into the fabric of the play reminds us of the affection underlying the often embattled Wingfield family and also reinforces the non-naturalistic style that was crucial to Williams' vision.

[Sally Field's] best scene - and one that indicates Field possesses the depth this complex character needs throughout - comes after a virulent argument with Tom. Attempting to overcome her distress, Field's Amanda displays heartwrenching determination as she launches into the forced cheerfulness necessary to sell magazine subscriptions over the phone, a job she has taken to supplement the family's meager income. Many directors downplay Laura's physical handicap on stage, but Mosher has Jennifer Dundas wear a heavy metal brace on one leg. Not only does the cumbersome brace give validity to this shy girl's feelings of awkwardness, but Dundas plays Laura as a mousy young woman far more capable of cowering than standing up for herself.

The flashes of freshness in Mosher's production are enhanced by John Lee Beatty's set design (which surrounds the Wingfields' claustrophobic apartment with immense signs from the movie theaters and dance hall that lure Tom into the outside world) and particularly by Aaron Copp's magical lighting design.

The Williams festival has showcased some exceptional performances - most notably George Grizzard's Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and now, Harner's Tom in Glass Menagerie. And the productions have certainly reinforced the greatness of these three American classics.”

ARCH CAMPBELL FROM WRC-TV SAYS:
“Sally Field as Williams's richest character…is a joy to watch. Put it on your must-see list!”