Sally Fields just can’t shake “The Flying Nun.” In this quite dreadful, misguided production now on Broadway at the Belasco, Fields was so light-weight, I thought she was going to fly out over the audience at any moment. And this time her disabled daughter Laura, played by a real-life, novice actress with muscular dystrophy in a wheel chair, makes Amanda Wingfield’s dreams of her Laura getting a date with the Gentleman Caller, go from being pathetic to simply delusional., if not cringe-worthy. Coming out onstage, helping Laura out of the wheel chair (they enter from the audience), Fields is as spry and young looking as a Dallas cheerleader, or a Broadway chorine. Yes, she’s had THAT much work done. And she also seems to be making her Broadway debut along with her disabled daughter. It is not a match made in heaven. I wanted to hurl. Something.
The one good thing that director Sam Gold did was take out the intermission, which I didn’t miss. The other two good things were his casting of the great Joe Mantello, as the restless Tom, Amanda’s son, and movie star Finn Wintrock as the VERY handsome Gentleman Caller. In fact, he just about steals the show. He’s so good, I could go on and on about him for the rest of this review, but I do have to mention that this simply awful production was like a knife in my heart, because I once really loved this play. But no more.
I remember reading a contemporary review to “Glass Menagerie”s original production by Mary McCarthy in 1944, and she just tore it to pieces. I especially remember the words “smelling of dime store pretensions like a cheap perfume.” I was horrified and disquieted by her acidic attacks. The great Laurette Taylor, everyone who saw it, says, except Ms. McCarthy, was transcendent as Amanda, considered one of Tennessee Willliams great creations. Second only to his Blanche Du Bois in “Streetcar Named Desire.”
But seeing this stripped-down-for-no-reason revival, one wonders how Williams ever launched his major career as an American playwright with THIS play. If Williams was alive, it would’ve destroyed him, and his reputation. Williams is always about the women in this plays. And here, because they are so weak, and Joe Mantello and Finn Wintrock are so strong, it is a lob-sided, hard- to- look-at mess.
Done like this, it appears to be every bit as small and pretentious as Mary McCarthy said it was.
So Williams owes a great debt to the late Laurette Taylor who must’ve been INCREDIBLE as Amanda. Contemporary photos reveal her to be quite care-worn and middle-aged. She looked perfectly like a downtrodden house-wife. She was not the glamorous sit-com girl Sally Fields brings with her, intentionally or not. Also she’s acting for the camera, not the stage. If there was a movie or TV camera THIS CLOSE, there might be perceived to be a performance going on .And that grating voice! A consummate character actress like Jayne Howdyshell would be terrific in this part.
Joe Mantello, to his credit, does bring out the gay sub-text as the all-set-to-wander Tom. When he says he’s out all night at the movies, we know just where he’s probably been and it’s not feature films. His one scene with Finn Wintrock as the Gentleman Caller, seems like he’s trying to pick him up FOR HIMSELF and not for Laura, and Wintrock is so dazzling, you feel that this moment is just right, as you sense his friendly, but bewildered discomfort. But he’s enough of yes, a gentleman, to overcome this awkward moment with Tom and come to dinner anyway. But it leaves you with the feeling that he DID accept Tom’s dinner invitation because, maybe, he wanted to know more about TOM, and not be subjected to Sally Field’s embarrassing over-arching Southern Belle-manque and the frighteningly deformed sister-in-the-wheel chair….You feel sorry for this ost gentlemanly of Gentleman Caller and for Finn Wintrock. His over-hearted friendliness has led him to be an unsuspected dupe.
This is the third production of “Glass Menagerie” on Broadway that has infuriated me. Jessica Lange was inexplicably hidden behind shower curtains. Cherry Jones was simply mis-cast and unseemly lesbianic in the extreme, and now we have this third mess….It makes me think Mary McCarthy was right.
I do have to say that Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura to Cherry Jones over-sexed Amanda deserved the Drama Desk Award and Tony Nomination she won a few years back. She was shy and fragile and utterly appealing and JUST right. Tennessee would’ve LOVED her. As I told her when she appeared on my show having won that year’s Drama Desk Award fro Best Supporting Actress.
Tennessee Williams used to refer to Laurette Taylor in letters he wrote at the time as “the old bag.” Nobody would ever say Sally Fields was an old bag. She’s more like a creation of Louis Vuitton.