The Glass Menagerie, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York

Through a glass, brilliantly
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The Independent Culture

The double Oscar-winner Jessica Lange has worked twice before with the British producer Bill Kenwright, but David Leveaux's seriously lovely staging of Tennessee Will-iams's The Glass Menagerie is the first time she's starred in a Kenwright venture that began life on Broadway rather than in the West End.

The double Oscar-winner Jessica Lange has worked twice before with the British producer Bill Kenwright, but David Leveaux's seriously lovely staging of Tennessee Will-iams's The Glass Menagerie is the first time she's starred in a Kenwright venture that began life on Broadway rather than in the West End.

In London, she famously had a second, successful crack at Blanche Dubois, and later she gave us her triumphant Mother in Long Day's Journey Into Night. So Kenwright must have felt he owed the actress an opening on her native soil.

Lange brilliantly portrays Amanda Wingfield, a quintessential Williams-style faded Southern belle - a deserted, déclassé single mother whose badgering fussiness and nostalgia have blighted the lives of her two (now adult) children. Because of what appear to have been "artistic differences'', Dallas Roberts left the production at the technical rehearsal. The key part of Amanda's son has been attractively filled by Christian Slater, fresh from his success as McMurphy in the West End revival of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

In Williams's memory play, Tom Wingfield is the filter through which we view the Depression years before the Second World War and the quietly disastrous consequences of the mother's aspirations for her progeny. Brought to beautifully sensitive life by the British director Leveaux, the production manages to be both tragic-comic and poetic, tough and yet delicate as the tiny glass figurines on to which the shy, crippled daughter (a compelling Sarah Paulson) has sidetracked her powers of devotion. On Tom Pye's excellent set, the action is often discerned through the lace curtains that can be swung all the way round the living room and bathed in diversely coloured lights: an episode can, say, be presented in silhouette, as though held in the glowing amber of recollection. There's a subjective look to proceedings - a sepia photograph of the charming, drunken runaway husband is tattooed, at moments, on to the lace; the horn of the wind-up gramophone pouts like the throat of a purplish flower.

Lange, in auburn wig, is spot on as Amanda, bearing herself with a kind of roguish refinement, as though still expecting chivalrous flattery. Her dreamy Southern drawl snags the heart and the nerves. The effect, to just the right degree, is both poignant and oppressive. You can understand why Laura and the loving but driven Tom have turned to each other for support and solace under the onslaught.

There is a revealing moment when Laura tenderly settles her drunk brother on the couch for the night and then lies on top of him for comfort. There is an emotional incestuousness between them that puts you in mind of Laertes and Ophelia.

As the Gentleman Caller, who turns out to be far from the answer to the mother's prayers for her daughter, Josh Lucas radiates well-meant but crashingly insensitive gallantry. And there are heart-stopping sequences, such as where Lange obliviously eclipses her daughter by appearing in the outfit she wore as a young woman when she led the Cotillion.

In a Broadway season not exactly overburdened with fragile lyricism or creative integrity, this Menagerie glimmers with the well-tended glow of those eponymous objects. Roll on a West End transfer.

To 16 July (00 1 212 239 6200)

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