Memory is a delicate thing, not unlike a glass unicorn. Tennessee Williams’ memory play The Glass Menagerie, on Broadway through Jan. 5 in an exquisite production by director John Tiffany, is just as fragile, striking a delicate balance between realism and stylized abstraction. Tiffany’s approach begins with the look of the Wingfield apartment in 1937 St. Louis: two hexagons of living space floating over a pool of inky black water, with a fire escape climbing up center stage like a unicorn’s horn. (The scenic and costume design is by Bob Crowley.)
The setting is both real and unreal, as are the performances by a uniformly excellent cast, with subtle choreography (by Steven Hoggett) that recalls the unshowy movement in Tiffany’s musical hit Once. Cherry Jones is masterful as Amanda, the faded Southern belle who yearns for her children to have the opportunities that she herself squandered. There is a real poignancy in her portrayal, which avoids the extremes that have felled some other Amandas: She noodges without being smothering, and romanticizes the past without seeming delusional.
As aspiring writer Tom, who longs to leave his warehouse job and set out on a life of adventure, Zachary Quinto is wryly funny but no less affecting. Celia Keenan-Bolger astutely underplays his sister Laura’s limp to emphasize how her most crippling feature is timidity of spirit. And Brian J. Smith, as Laura’s former high school crush, hits just the right notes of vanity and vulnerability. As seen through the hazy gauze of recollection, these mythic characters become at once familiar and true. A