One of the first things that strikes you about EIF's revival of John Tiffany's American Repertory Theater production of Tennessee Williams' defining early play is how warm everyone is to each other. Would-be writer Tom Wingfield may be desperate to get away from the fire escape of the St Louis tenement that made him, but in Michael Esper's portrayal is a long way from the uptight neurotic he's sometimes presented as. Instead, the sparring with his mother Amanda is part and parcel of the day to day knockabout of a supremely dysfunctional but still loving family.
This is most defined in Cherry Jones' exquisite portrayal of Amanda, a woman made brittle by disappointment and only too willing to lionise her past, but who now she is alone only wants the best for her very special children. Where Tom is a classic ennui-ridden bookworm, her daughter Laura is fragile in a more troubling way. Even here, however, Kate O'Flynn's portrayal may be so delicate that it looks like it might fall apart any second, but she too is in on the family joke as she and her brother both indulge and quietly mock her mother's flights of fancy. Seth Numrich's Gentleman Caller too is a mix of bluffness and disappointment.
Tiffany and movement director Steven Hoggett invest what is already a beautiful piece of work with an emotional pulse that comes not only from the subtle physical tics each character is given, but Natasha Katz's near sepia lighting and Nico Muhly's piano-led score as well. Played out on Bob Crowley's barely there set, what is possibly the saddest play ever written is blessed with fresh magic throughout.
The Herald, August 9th 2016