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March 26, 2010

TT: A masterpiece made manifest

I'm one for three in today's Wall Street Journal drama column, but the one, Roundabout's new off-Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie, is a knockout and a wow. Also present and accounted for--though not very enthusiastically--are Twyla Tharp's Come Fly Away and Suzan-Lori Parks' The Book of Grace. Here's an excerpt.

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Gordon Edelstein, whose past productions at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre include the best "Uncle Vanya" I've ever seen, has brought his version of Tennessee Williams' masterpiece from Connecticut to the Laura Pels Theatre, the Roundabout Theatre Company's Off-Broadway house. It should have gone to Broadway instead, and perhaps it will someday. In the meantime, though, you must see this show at once. No matter how well you know "The Glass Menagerie," you'll feel as though you're watching it for the first time. Every line, every pause, every gesture is as fresh as a shaft of sunlight.

Mr. Edelstein has added a surprise of his own to the oft-told tale of the Wingfield family, who come north to St. Louis in search of a new life and find themselves trapped in the quicksand of shabby gentility and fading hope. Since "The Glass Menagerie" is an autobiographical memory play narrated by Tom Wingfield, Williams' alter ego, Mr. Edelstein sets the action in a single playing space designed with penny-plain restraint by Michael Yeargan that doubles as the tenement apartment of the Wingfields and--here's the surprise--a grubby New Orleans hotel room to which Tom has fled in order to write the very play that we are seeing. Needless to say, that's not what Williams had in mind, and on paper it may sound like an over-ingenious directorial conceit, but in performance it heightens to a breathtaking degree the immediacy of Tom's recollections.

In addition to rethinking the play in so innovative a way, Mr. Edelstein has assembled a masterly cast whose members perform without the faintest hint of sentimentality....

Twyla Tharp racked up a major disaster three seasons ago with "The Times They Are A-Changin,'" one of the lamest jukebox musicals ever to stagger onto Broadway. Not surprisingly, she's playing it very, very safe this time around: "Come Fly Away" is a love-in-a-nightclub fantasy set to the ever-popular music of Frank Sinatra, whose recordings have previously accompanied three of Ms. Tharp's ballets. The songs are familiar, the dancers are pretty, the set is fancy and the band is hot. All that's missing from this recipe for success are a star and a few memorable onstage events....

If you feel the need for a stiff dose of fatuity, head straight down to the Public Theater to see Suzan-Lori Parks' "The Book of Grace." The setting is Texas, which is--naturally--a desert full of bigots. The villain of the piece is an ultra-conservative border-patrol officer (John Doman) whose long-estranged biracial son (Amari Cheatom) has come home for a visit, in the course of which he beds his Pollyannish stepmother (Elizabeth Marvel, who is, as always, astonishingly good). We are, I think, invited to suppose that the father molested the son once upon a time, or maybe vice versa....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted March 26, 2010 12:00 AM

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