On top of being a Tony Award-winning director, John Tiffany may very well be a master of Jedi mind tricks.
How else would he have gotten actress Cherry Jones to play Amanda Wingfield––a role she had long been dead-set against playing––in American Repertory Theater’s upcoming production of Tennessee Williams’s classic family drama The Glass Menagerie? The TV, film, and stage actress, who has spent ample time in productions both on Broadway and in Boston (she’s a founding member of A.R.T.), has auditioned for Laura’s role more than once in the past, but knew she’d never portray the hilarious and often delusional mother “by choice.”
And yet here she is.
The Glass Menagerie serves as the debut production of a Tennessee Williams work at the A.R.T. The play is narrated by Tom Wingfield (played by the amazing Zachary Quinto), who is fed up with his job and his life at home, and the fact that his overbearing mother is bugging him to find a gentleman caller (Brian J. Smith) for his shy, disabled sister Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger), who would rather spend her days admiring her collection of glass animals and skipping class. The events take place in 1937 St. Louis, but everything that happens onstage is being recalled from Tom’s memory.
It’s a true classic, with a healthy dose of humor and a whole lot of heartbreak.
When I spoke with Jones over the phone, she had just wrapped up the first rehearsal of the famous scene introducing the gentleman caller, which had blown her away to the point that she exclaimed, “I’m happy as a clam just watching them!” She has warmed up to her own role thanks to a certain connection to Southern women that comes from growing up in Tennessee in the ‘60s and having been immersed in the same specific dialect used in the play.
When it comes to immersing herself in the role, the unique urgency of the mother-daughter dynamic in the play is motivation enough.
“What greater thrust can an actress playing a mother have than a vulnerable, shy child who is not capable of existing in this world?” she said.
“Ugh, it’s just a killer.”
As Jones expressed, with all of this conflict and tension between the characters, the setup of the stage itself can make the already oppressive atmosphere nearly unbearable.
“The problem with so many productions of the play is it is done in such a drab way,”
she said. “It’s usually done surrounded by grey or brown walls, and by the time the lights go up on Tom’s entrance, you already wanna kill yourself.”
This production may be easier on the audience’s mental health, as Tiffany’s vision included a set without walls, a simple design with only the necessities for props and furniture. In his production notes for The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams disclosed his own vision that theater “should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are,” and Jones feels this production will get closer to achieving this effect on the audience.
“In my very humble opinion, I think Tennessee and John Tiffany would appreciate each other a great deal,” she said, adding that the play is one of Tiffany’s and set designer Bob Crowley’s all-time favorites.
“It’s being handled by artists who revere it and treasure it, so that’s good. Tennessee’s in good hands.”
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
SAT 2.2.13-SUN 3.17.13
THE LOEB DRAMA CENTER
64 BRATTLE ST.