Overacting the Parts: The Glass Menagerie 

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Photo by Michael J. Lutch

The Glass Menagerie
The Booth Theatre


Ever since it first played in Boston at the American Repertory Theater, this John Tiffany-directed revival of Tennessee Williams’s classic has received superlative reviews from critics and message-board posters. Some have joked that the star, Cherry Jones, has healed the sick with her mere presence on stage as Amanda Wingfield, a voluble Southern belle desperately trying to find a place in the world for her pathologically shy daughter Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger).

Menagerie is a warhorse, and it needs to be handled delicately to avoid getting mired in its symbolism and poetic reaching. There are some memorable or at least unusual directorial choices in this production, like having Tom (Zachary Quinto) introduce Laura to us by pulling her out of a sofa. But the cramped Wingfield apartment is surprisingly spacious here, even though these three people should be right on top of each other; the stage is surrounded by a watery surface, and Tiffany has directed the actors to look out at this surface periodically as if they’re staring into some future abyss, which also distances them from each other.

Jones has been a canonized theater actress for 20 years now, and a rare soulfulness shines out of her face, but as Amanda she often buries this quality beneath a barrage of overdone physical mannerisms that signal to us that she's Acting. Her sweeping arm gestures are so elaborate that they’re disconnected from any recognizable human behavior—even that of faded and slightly crazed Southern belles. She slaps her hands together to make a point so many times that each slap moves her farther from the text. Jones continually goes for the most far-out emotional choices, and so does Quinto—but they're not in sync. When Amanda and Tom fight, these two actors are so deeply involved in their own dramatic showboating that they barely seem to hear each other.

Jones and Quinto are playing for effect, and their effects are all extreme, and so they ignore the nuts-and-bolts of actually inhabiting the play. If they would cut what they were doing in half and just listen and respond to each other, I’m sure both of them would have very fine performances in them. But they over-embroider their work at every turn, and not even the perfectly played and judged late scene between Laura and the Gentleman Caller (Brian J. Smith) can save this production. Perhaps the acclaim will continue, because Jones and Quinto are working so hard at it in such an obvious way, but they both need to settle down and just be these characters and stop acting all over the place.

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