A Wheelchair on Broadway Isn't Exploitation. It's Progress.

There’s a wheelchair onstage at the Belasco Theater, and it’s drawing an abundance of attention. There’s also a wheelchair onstage at a small theater not far away, and it’s drawing practically no attention at all. The gulf between the two says quite a lot.

At the Belasco, the Broadway house on West 44th Street, the wheelchair is one of the conspicuous elaborations the director Sam Gold has brought to his production of “The Glass Menagerie,” the beloved Tennessee Williams drama. The chair isn’t just a prop; it’s a necessity for the actress playing Laura, Madison Ferris, who has muscular dystrophy.

That bit of casting is, of course, a significant change from the shy girl with a limp that Williams called for in his play. And Mr. Gold’s staging leaves no doubt that Ms. Ferris is not some able-bodied actress pretending to have a disability. He has her enter by painstakingly climbing stairs, one of several times that he takes her out of the wheelchair and confronts the audience with the difficulties of having severely limited mobility.

Some leading critics have objected to the transformation of Williams’s subtle play about a family enveloped in denial into something more strident. The kindest objections say that Mr. Gold’s interpretation simply doesn’t mesh well with the text; harsher ones on theater chat boards have called his use of Ms. Ferris exploitative.