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September 29, 2013 9:11 pm
The hosannas that rained down on this now-on-Broadway staging when it debuted at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, earlier this year, fell mostly on Cherry Jones, as Amanda Wingfield, and Zachary Quinto, as her poetic, wayward son, Tom. Yet the only scene in this exquisite-looking, moderately captivating production of Tennessee Williams’ 1944 drama that shredded my heart occurred between the story’s other two characters: Laura, given a stern shyness by Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Jim, given a fine fallen-from-grace reading by Brian J. Smith.
A failure in school, Laura has long nursed a crush on Jim, who once showed youthful promise but has been so humbled that he is now working in a shoe warehouse with Tom. Their scene after dinner, at which Mrs Wingfield has tried to paper over the threadbare gentility of the family’s St Louis apartment (it is the mid-1930s), is the stuff of drama-school exercises. Yet by letting the emotional details accumulate, Keenan-Bolger and Smith not only make the scene worthy of full marks but provide a contrast to the master-class approach taken by Jones.
“I could put on an act for you,” Jim tells Laura, and Jones’s Amanda heeds the advice in conspicuous fashion. At first Jones’s chatter is such an overpowering barrage that I couldn’t see the dreamy Tom lasting in the house for a minute – much less for years. Jones is in The League of Grand Actors. The actors closest to her are Meryl Streep, who played the role in the screen version of Doubt that Jones originated onstage, and Cate Blanchett, whose Blanche DuBois-like work in Woody Allen’s current Blue Jasmine is a modern echo of Amanda’s faded status. For all three performers, mannered excess sometimes has to be overlooked to savour the inevitable show-stopping wallop.
Such a moment comes here when Amanda swans around the living room in an ancient frock. Jones summons up Amanda’s beau-filled youth, and lets the character drop her gritty survival mode in order to let Williams’ lyricism shine. Quinto, best known as Mr Spock in the recent Star Trek films, commands lyricism, starting with the famous opening monologue. I was never quite carried away by his plot-driving yen to escape his mother – nor by John Tiffany’s serviceable direction. But the production elements are first-rate: Natasha Katz’s pinpoint lighting, Nico Muhly’s haunting music and, above all, Bob Crowley’s set, with its foreshortened fire escape that does so much to evoke the characters’ diminishing dreams.
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