by Harold Pinter
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
Looking back over prior reviews Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, I seem never to have been its biggest fan. it chronicles an extra-marital affair between two people married to others–and tells the story backwards…sort of. It will proceed chronologically within each dramatised year of its seven-year time-frame; but it starts with the last year and works its way to the beginning. Aside from the passing character of a waiter the cast consists only of the affair-havers (Rachel Weisz, Rafe Spall) and the cuckolded husband (Daniel Craig). Unlike most Pinter plays, this one seems not to be swathed in the usual ambiguities of relationship. For the most part we know who’s who and how they relate to each other. The dialogue contains few if any of Pinter’s signature elliptical pauses and are-they/aren’t-they non sequiturs. But it is a dry affair and he avoids the expected histrionics of such personal configurations. Its fascination lies with watching how its trio behave amongst themselves when they are or are not aware of the others’ awareness. The drama lies in how much they choose to reveal, how much they chose to withhold and how at every given point, we always know more than they do.
My problem is that the characters—for all that they are unambiguous—are still, like those in Pinter’s more cryptic plays, essences of characters. They’re not really fleshed out, save by the actors’ art, which seems to concentrate on subtle contradictions of manners. Ms. Weisz bounces between being tortured and vivacious, Mr. Spall is brashly insecure and childishly needy, and Mr. Craig is avuncular and philosophical with only occasional unguarded moments of anger. But they have very little history or life outside the narrative, and the text doesn’t really tell us that much more. In fact, at the play’s beginning (which is, of course, the end of the affair) all it really tells us are the facts of who knew what and when, and how long it has been going on.
It’s hard to assess the direction by Mike Nichols save that he has gotten resonant performances out of his cast, but hasn’t really illuminated the play save to put it through his own stylistic filter, which tends toward telling the story cleanly, delivering the comedy expertly and seeming to otherwise stay out of the way, though perhaps filling out some of the blanks Pinter left him via implication of behavior. Choices that may be unique to the production, but not in any manner that’s definitive or revelatory.
So it’s likewise hard to separate the event of the production from the script. If you like and admire the play, I think it does no harm. If you see, or are likely to see, the play as I do—professionally worthy and viscerally empty—it won’t do much to seduce you.
On the other hand, I bought into director John Tiffany’s current revival of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams wholeheartedly. Admittedly it did take me a while: Zachary Quinto as Tom doesn’t settle into his performance right away; you feel the effort of an actor trying to establish his character. But once his sister Laura, in the person of Celia Keenan-Bolger makes an absolutely magical entrance (not to be spoiled here), there’s a delighted exclamation from the audience, and from that moment on, things start to gel, because that entrance has assured us that the play is deeply understood and that we’re in good hands. And then of course there’s Cherry Jones as the domineering matriarch, delivering an Amanda Wingfield for the ages. She manages the trick of giving us a monster who isn’t a monster, whose tactics are borne of survival instinct and a desire to have a future for her children rather than domination, but who can’t see where the two overlap. In accent and physicality too, she is an absolutely iconic Amanda.
I’m still making up my mind about a few cuts made to the script; whether Tiffany was woodshedding redundancy or clipping illuminative details. But the cuts seem not to compromise the overall impact, so I’m content to let musing on that be my own academic exercise. This is a Glass Menagerie to see and vividly remember.
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