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Thursday, February 15, 2007
London Glass Menagerie Strikes Goold With Critics
Two evenings ago, Jessica Lange brought her interpretation of Tennessee Williams' Amanda Wingfield (read: his mother) back to the stage, this time in the London mounting of The Glass Menagerie. Critics were primarily positive about the Rupert Goold-helmed production.
Noting how "everything works gloriously" and that "a great play has been magnificently revived," Charles Spencer of the Telegraph provides his stamp of approval: "I take my hat off to the sheer stubborn persistence of the impresario Bill Kenwright and the actress Jessica Lange....The hotshot young director Rupert Goold stages a superbly judged production that captures both the haunting atmosphere of this memory play and its harrowing awareness of the unbearable pain that life can inflict on the innocent....Jessica Lange captures all the grotesque absurdity of Amanda Wingfield, flirting gushingly and girlishly with the man she wants to marry her daughter, but also leaving no doubt about the character's genuine pain and neurosis."
"Entering Edwina’s little world is like clambering down into a hideously cosy version of Hades," is how The Times' Benedict Nightingale describes The Glass Menagerie in his four-out-of-five star review: "As Lange makes clear, the dividing line between concern and control, devotion and oppression, love and destruction, is awfully thin. That’s not all there is to Lange’s performance. She extracts the most from the burbling and babbling with which, dressed in a frock that would have looked dated in 'Gone with the Wind,' she soft-soaps Mark Umbers as the Gentleman Caller she hopes will fall for Laura. She also gives us a glimpse, and sometimes more than a glimpse, at the desperation behind her endless, maddening manipulations."
The Independent's Alice Jones is generally laudatory: "Lange is suitably striking in the role, flitting, with little bird-like movements of her hand, from mollycoddling mother to self-obsessed old crone and, most memorably, a girlish coquette in the company of the gentleman caller. She is not, though, the standout performance in a uniformly excellent cast. Ed Stoppard is convincing as the narrator through whose tortured memory the action is filtered. Amanda Hale's nervy performance as Laura is as delicate as the glass animals she treasures, and beautifully contrasts with Mark Umbers's robust, strong-jawed, good-natured charm as the long-awaited gentleman caller."
Offering up four out of five stars, the Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh is mostly positive, except for its major star: "Rupert Goold's dream-struck production of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie finally convinces me this is one of the great, unhappy family-life plays in the modern American repertoire....The character of Tom, powerfully brought to dissatisfied life by Ed Stoppard and without that familiar belligerent glare of his, is Williams's alter ego and the play's narrator....Jessica Lange, The Glass Menagerie's prime misfit, makes a far less forceful impression....But Lange, never a dynamic figure on stage, makes garrulous Amanda a shrill, artificial, unfunny babbler rather than the complex figure of comic absurdity and frightened self-deception she ought be."
Michael Billington of The Guardian seems to agree. In providing three out of five stars, Billington states: "[E]ven though Jessica Lange had already played the role on Broadway, her Amanda seemed underpowered....Far more significant was the fact that Lange never persuaded me she inhabited a world of fantasy....Lange has good touches, such as her reflex attempts to smooth down her son's hair, but her Amanda never fully inhabits her own private world. But where the evening takes off is in the celebrated scene where Laura is confronted by a gentleman-caller in the shape of a colleague Tom has brought home to dinner. This is not only Williams at his best: it also brings forth a transcendent piece of acting from Amanda Hale as Laura."
Whether U.K. audiences will similarly warm to the tragic tale or are simply flocking to it to see two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange remains to be seen. I can't help but wondering what Sir Alan Ayckbourn will think of that.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
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Lange's Return To Glass Menagerie Opens In London (February 13, 2007)