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A new take on Tennessee Williams’ “A Glass Menagerie”

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Cherry Jones and Celia Keenan Bolger star as mother and daughter in
Cherry Jones and Celia Keenan Bolger star as mother and daughter in "The Glass Menagerie."


If you already know Tennessee Williams’ iconic play The Glass Menagerie (now in previews on Broadway) then you’ll know that poor Laura Wingfield is probably destined to halt her way to eternity.

The truth is the play has been produced so often, with so many different interpretations, that it’s remarkable its lost none of its power to move. That’s probably because Williams seemed to have opened a vein to find the ink.

For some reason The Glass Menagerie itself defies satire, even though the storyline has been fertile soil for satirists for decades. It’s probably because the language is too rich, the pain it describes is too raw and too enduring.

For an actress, appearing in one of Williams’ plays still represents a career high. That’s why Celia Keenan Bolger, already a Broadway luminary at 35, signed on to play hapless Laura after first mulling it over carefully as any smart actress should.

Concerned that the production could go either way, tilting into a lifeless Masterpiece Theatre presentation or worse, delving into the realms of camp, Keenan Bolger was reassured when she saw who she’d be playing opposite -- none other than the Broadway legend Cherry Jones and screen idol Zachary Quinto, who’s best known for his performance as Spock in the new Star Trek movies.

“I grew up in Detroit, Michigan and I’m Irish on both sides,” Keenan Bolger tells the Irish Voice. “My dad’s family was from Co. Wexford and my mom’s came from Co. Fermanagh. It’s so funny because there’s a section in The Glass Menagerie where someone’s girlfriend is thought undesirable because she’s Irish and I always think, but I have that in me as well.”

Keenan Bolger’s reputation was made starring front and center of some of the most celebrated musicals and plays of the past decade, including The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Les Miserables, Peter and the Starcatcher and The Light in the Piazza. She’s played a headline Irish role too in a production that won plaudits.

“I got to play Mary Boyle in the musical Juno, based on Juno and the Paycock,” Keenan Bolger says. “That was a really fun experience, with an Irish director (Garry Hynes) that made it truly authentic. As an actor I’m looking for roles that are very different from who I am, which The Glass Menagerie is.”

In Williams plays people, particularly women, are put into very difficult and unfair circumstances by society, by men usually. The opportunity to explore that made her interested in the role.

 “Amanda Wingfield (played by Jones) is known as this flighty southern belle who’s obsessed by the past. But in the version we’re doing Cherry has so much more backbone,” Keenan Bolger says.

“This woman has supported a family in the Great Depression as she figures out how these two kids who don’t have any prospects are going to exist in the world once she’s gone. It’s why the play still resonates now.”

Keenan Bolger says the production attempts to highlight what happens to a family when times are so rough.
“In our version all of the characters are trying to take of each other but they just don’t have the tools to do it. Everybody is constantly disappointing everyone else. My character can never rise to the expectations her mother has for her,” she says.

It’s not hard for anyone to access the kind of discomfort the characters onstage are experiencing. Feeling like you’re a disappointment to your parents is at one time or another a pretty universal experience.

Onstage Quinto is never more expressive than when he’s barely emoting at all. Think of his portrait of Spock in the Star Trek films, where he’s even surpassed Leonard Nimoy in his ability to capture the conflict between his human and Vulcan sides.

“This is one of the most gifted group of actors I have ever been on stage with. With Zach I wondered if his film work would transfer onto the stage, and of course he’s a master,” Keenan Bolger says.

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