Judith Ivey with Keira Keeley and Patch Darragh
in The Glass Menagerie
(© Joan Marcus)
Judith Ivey with Keira Keeley and Patch Darragh
in The Glass Menagerie
(© Joan Marcus)
Judith Ivey is in her element as Amanda Wingfield in Gordon Edelstein's new production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, now at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre. Her Amanda is deeply Southern, proud as she is desperate, and monstrous yet loving. This is definitely a mother who truly tries to do her best by her children, even if she doesn't understand them in the least.

Still, purists will likely find fault with this revival (which was first presented last summer at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre) since Edelstein and set designer Michael Yeargan have reversed field from the author's instructions. Williams envisioned Tom Wingfield, the play's haunted protagonist, fully engaged in the St. Louis memories that he summons, but also framing them. In this autobiographical "memory play," Tom is recalling a phase in early adulthood when, stifled by familial responsibility, he had one foot out the door of the family's cramped apartment -- and their lives.

The central locus is now a drab New Orleans hotel room, where Tom (Patch Darragh, too floppy and pouty and lacking a rebel's edge) tap-tap-taps away at a typewriter, reading aloud as he conjures family ghosts. While they first appear like a vision beyond the suddenly transparent wallpaper, Amanda and Tom's shy, disabled sister, Laura (Keira Keeley, appropriately fragile), are soon making themselves at home in Tom's room, as he continues to type and jot notes. While few scenarios are more tedious that watching a writer write, the play's irresistible drama soon overshadows this little conceit.

Much of the credit belongs to the magnificent Ivey, who is earthier than most actresses who have played the role and all but devoid of the la-di-da airs that many interpreters affect. Yes, Amanda may treasure her DAR connections -- but you get the sense here it's for the business connections they afford. If her phone solicitations should ever dry up (as they give every sign of doing), you could easily picture her trudging door to door.

Meanwhile, she's got a party to plan: a dinner for Laura's elusive, long-awaited "gentlemen caller," Jim O'Connor (Michael Mosley), a colleague of Tom's from his warehouse job. From the elation Amanda displays, you'd think he was coming to sweep her off her feet.

The one new member of this ensemble is Mosley (replacing Josh Charles who played the role at Long Wharf ) and his performance rejiggers the production. His Jim is so hale and hearty that he practically sweeps through his scenes like a gale force, the glad-handing antithesis of everything this sad little family is not. Moreover, he is so pumped up with his own prospects that he's all but blind to the delicate, self-improvement-proof specimen before him. His impulsive embrace of Laura reads like an assault, although it leaves her dreamily smiling. And watching Laura trying to engage Jim in her little glass fantasy world is like watching a fawn try to play with a bear.