Sally Field's Return to Broadway in ‘Glass Menagerie'

It hasn’t been long since our last outing with the beleaguered Wingfelds, of “The Glass Menagerie”—a surreal and ornate revival of the Tennessee Williams memory play appeared on Broadway less than four years ago.

Now, the sad St. Louis clan is back again, in a production starring Sally Field as its faded matriarch. This newest “Menagerie,” helmed by director Sam Gold (“Fun Home”) and now open at the Belasco Theatre, could not be more different from the one we last saw.

Gold’s staging is bare. There are no backdrops, and the set is composed of just a few shelves containing props, a dining table and a Victrola, which a well-grounded Laura (Madison Ferris) will cleverly use to stash the falsies she’s been saddled with by her overbearing mother before her ill-fated dinner with a “gentleman caller” (Finn Wittrock).

Our narrator, meanwhile, is older: Renowned Broadway director Joe Mantello (“The Humans,” “Wicked,” etc.) puts his acting hat back on to play Tom, the frustrated warehouse worker whose late-night comings and goings are a source of constant anxiety to Amanda, his mother.

The Wingfields have been deserted by the family patriarch, a telephone lineman who “fell in love with long distance.” Amanda tries to scrape by selling magazine subscriptions and with a bit of aid from Tom, who we know from the narratives bookending “Menagerie” has only stuck around out of affection for his younger sister.

Laura’s physical handicap tends to change from production to production of “Menagerie.” Ferris is an actress with muscular dystrophy making her Broadway debut. It’s unusual for audiences to see a Laura with a disability that’s more visible than what the script demands, and her entrance, with Field, establishes a distinctive tone.

Field, going first, drags an empty wheelchair up metal steps at the foot of the stage—bump-bump-bump. Ferris follows behind, methodically ascending the stairs on her rump. Throughout “Menagerie,” Ferris will scoot across the stage with an offbeat grace that nonetheless establishes her outsider status.

Field delivers a matter-of-fact Amanda, who reveals her deepest eccentricities in a twisted Cinderella-esque moment, tossing aside her burgundy terrycloth bathrobe to reveal the pink Barbie doll dress she’s donned to impress the night’s dinner guest.

The two-time Oscar winner, who last appeared on Broadway in 2002 (and previously took on her current role in a 2004 Kennedy Center staging) is not as misty as other Amandas we’ve met. Indeed, she is sharp and declarative in recounting for her kids the gentleman callers who paid her attention in years past.

It makes her later delusions all the more resonant.

Mantello, with his shock of salt and pepper hair, is a more manic Tom than the ruminative Zachary Quinto, his most recent stage predecessor. The Tom we see during the main section of the play is always the Tom of the “now,” who introduces the story.

It’s a viable way to approach the script, though at times during the main narrative it might leave you with the impression Laura is his niece, not his sister.

Ferris, in her Broadway debut, is excellent—“like a piece of translucent glass touched by light”—particularly during the climactic scene, in which she dares to show Wittrock’s charismatic Jim O’Connor the most cherished item in her menagerie. This Laura knows her limitations and accepts them, unlike anyone in her orbit.

The lighting is lowered slowly over the first minutes of the play, which runs just over 2 hours with no intermission. At times, a steady stream of rain falls against the black rear wall of the Belasco, accentuating the sense of despair permeating the 1944 drama.

Gold puts his stamp on “Menagerie” with both hyper-realistic elements and a minimalist set so barren it can only leave us to focus on the actors—the juxtaposition of styles makes this “Menagerie” as interesting as any I’ve seen.

“The Glass Menagerie,” through July 2 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St. Tickets: $39-$149. Call 212-239-6200.

Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn

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