Preview: The Glass Menagerie

February 2 through March 17

American Repertory Theater

Three interconnecting hexagonal shapes are taped out on the rehearsal room floor for John Tiffany’s upcoming production of Tennessee Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie,” which opens at the American Repertory Theater on Saturday. These shapes are the outlines for a pared-down version of the Wingfield apartment, where the whole action of the play will unfold. “The Glass Menagerie” follows Tom Wingfield (Zachary Quinto), a restless twenty-something who yearns to escape the claustrophobic setting of his childhood home. “It’s pure theater, what Tennessee Williams envisaged,” Tiffany says.

With movement choreographed by Tiffany’s long-time collaborator Steven Hoggett and original music composed by Nico Muhly, “The Glass Menagerie” adds new artistic components to the classic play. These additions, along with the sparse set design by Tony Award-winning Bob Crowley, represent a reimagined view of the story line. Traditionally the play takes place in a claustrophobic apartment, but Crowley has chosen to remove the walls and make the set more open to the audience.

Although best known as a director of new works such as “Black Watch” and “Once,” which now plays on Broadway, directing the Williams classic is something Tiffany has yearned for since his student days. The play has long been one of the director’s favorites, he says.

When he was a Radcliffe Fellow in 2011, he met Cherry Jones, a founding member of ART and an actress best known for her role in the television series “24” and her Tony Award-winning performance in the play “Doubt.” Tiffany recalls the lunch with Jones when he first realized she would be the perfect Amanda Wingfield, Tom’s overbearing and controlling mother in “The Glass Menagerie.”

“It took a while to convince her to do it,” he says. “She didn’t think it was a part that she’d ever blossom in.” But Tiffany says Jones’ reservations were quelled by the gathering of the cast 14 months ago for a read-through of the play.

“Everyone came to it really hungry and excited to be in Cambridge,” Tiffany says.

Despite the new design aspects of the production, Tiffany asserts that the classic text remains the focus of the piece.

“I’ve been asked quite a few times, ‘Is this a radical reworking of ‘The Glass Menagerie?’’” Tiffany says. “If it is, it doesn’t feel like we’re intending to do that.”

—Staff writer Joshua R. McTaggart can be reached at jmctaggart@college.harvard.edu.

Tags