Sally Field and Joe Mantello on tackling Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie
For two-time Oscar winner Sally Field, starring in the new Broadway revival of 'The Glass Menagerie' at the Belasco Theatre is a dream finally come true
For two-time Oscar winner Sally Field, starring in the new Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie at the Belasco Theatre is a dream finally come true. In 2004, she played the impoverished Southern matriarch Amanda Wingfield at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, earning raves. Now, 13 years later, the actress brings her take on one of Tennessee Williams’ most meaty and demanding roles to the Great White Way. And Field gets to work with Sam Gold, the Tony-winning director of 2015’s inventive and emotional Fun Home. “I have this massive creative crush on him,” says the Lincoln and Steel Magnolias star. “I followed him around. I saw Fun Home four times.”
Previously portrayed by Jessica Lange and Cherry Jones, among others, garrulous Amanda spends the show desperately attempting to secure a beau for her shy daughter, Laura, with the reluctant help of Laura’s brother, Tom, who is remembering these events from a vantage point in the future. In this production, newcomer Madison Ferris brings a heightened degree of physical impairment to Laura, and Tom is assayed by Joe Mantello, an artist equally adept as an actor (The Normal Heart, the original Broadway production of Angels in America) and director (a little musical called Wicked, plus many more). Finn Wittrock from American Horror Story completes the four-person cast as Jim O’Connor, the “gentleman caller” whom Tom invites home in the hope that he will fall for his sister.
So how are the rehearsals going? “I don’t know!” confesses Field, 70. “It’s so much, and so hard. I don’t know who’s going to go crazy first, Amanda or me.” Fortunately, Mantello, 54, is also on hand to talk about the production (opening March 9) — and help reassure his costar. “I think they’re going swell,” he says. “I really do!”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved in this revival?
SALLY FIELD: About five years ago I got my first New York apartment. I was having the college life I never had because I started [working] so early. It had a TV on top of a box and a mattress on the floor — like a kid, really. I would read new plays and did a billion readings, and I did some workshops. I was lucky that when I was on Broadway before, with [Edward Albee’s] The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Scott Rudin produced the play, and he was incredibly supportive and remained so about me coming back to Broadway. A year ago Scott asked me to lunch and he said, “Okay, so how about Glass Menagerie?” And I went, “Whaaat?” He had always known that for me, that was the one that got away. We couldn’t transfer the  production from D.C. to New York because it was being done [the next year on Broadway with Lange], and then another one was done, and I had just crossed it off. So I said [to Scott when he asked me again], “You’re joking.” And he said, “No. And how about with Sam Gold?” I went, “Whaaat?” I could barely talk. I walked back to my apartment just stunned. And then the other part of me was going, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” You know, be careful what you wish for!
JOE MANTELLO: Unlike Sally, mine was actually not a role that I had ever considered playing. The deciding factor for me was to be in a room with Sam. You know, directors never get to watch other directors work. I’ve learned so much just from being in the audience at his productions that I thought, “Well, I want to be in a room with him and absorb what he knows.” I’ve grown to love the role.
Tell us about your two costars.
FIELD: They’re both just divine. Finn is so talented and energetic. Then there’s the flat-out gift that is Madison. Never has Laura been the heart of the play as much as this. Do you agree?
MANTELLO: I agree. And it’s a very different take. There’s very little self-pity. Sam has endowed Laura with a sense of agency that I don’t think we’ve seen before.
Madison is a wheelchair user in real life. How does that play into her character?
FIELD: It plays into her character. [Laughs] It’s much more true, because before Laura was simply a character who had a club foot, a limp. That, I’m sure, is difficult to adapt to in your life. But this is a family that really has to deal with some issues that are incredibly difficult at a time when no one is going to help you, except each other.
Sally, what is the most challenging aspect of playing Amanda?
FIELD: There is a mindset you have to get into so that you have the reins of this animal and it’s not dragging you around behind the wagon. Brilliant Mr. Gold has not made it any easier! [Laughs]
In what sense?
FIELD: Just in his vision, the way he is telling the story, really being nonlinear. It’s a constant loop of Tom’s memories that dovetail into each other.
Has he altered the play, or chopped it up?
FIELD: No, he’s not chopped up a single thing. As a matter of fact, this is probably the most accurate production of what Tennessee originally wrote.
MANTELLO: It really plays out as a memory play, and “memory” is different from “dreamy.” Quite often I see Glass Menageries that are dreamy. This is a very tough production.
What was your first experience of Tennessee Williams?
MANTELLO: It feels like he’s been…
FIELD: Always in your life?
FIELD: Well, I was doing Tennessee Williams in high school. [Laughs] So, in 1962. I was always attracted to his language. I was doing his one-act plays, and I did a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire.
FIELD: The rape scene! I mean, my God — we were in high school! [Laughs] It was like Heidi the little goat girl taking a stab at it. But it didn’t matter! I was queen of the drama department, and I told them what I was going to do, and that’s what I was going to do.
MANTELLO: You still are queen of the drama department, here at the Belasco Theatre.
Do you know what you’re doing after the end of the run?
FIELD: I’m going to lay down.
Are you still sleeping on the floor?
FIELD: No, I have a real bed now!