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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Sturdy Glass Revival in Madison

The Glass Menagerie
Wendy Barrie-Wilson and Katherine Kellgren
A sturdy revival of the beloved Tennessee Williams early masterwork, The Glass Menagerie, is gracing the stage of Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at its comfortable theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison.

This lyrical “memory play” is a fictionalized meditation on the author’s relationship and last days at home with his self centered, suffocating mother, and mentally and physically challenged sister. The play is narrated by Tom (a Williams stand-in), a fledgling writer who in the midst of the great depression feels trapped in a factory job which helps pay the family bills. As it becomes clear that his sister Laura is unable to cope with any work situation, their mother Amanda focuses on finding a “gentleman caller” (read potential husband) for Laura. Act one is described as “Preparation for a Gentleman Caller”; act two, “The Gentleman Calls.”

Robert Cuccioli (Broadway’s Jekyll & Hyde), who has directed two regional productions of Jekyll & Hyde, directs his first play here. It is a good debut choice, as Menagerie is a lovely, small play that falls into the “it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it” category. However, it is also true that there is the need to find a specific tone for the play and for each of its roles. How ethereally, poetically, or realistically should it be played? If it is played too ethereally, it can become distant and dull; too realistically and it can lose much of its gentle other worldly pathos.

Cuccioli is clearly aware of the need to find a balance. He seems to have chosen to place a greater emphasis on the realistic elements of what is essentially a family tragedy. There is more harshness and pace than there is dreaminess and quiet. This is a valid interpretation when, as is the case here, the poetic nature of the work is not entirely abandoned.

The actors create a smooth ensemble. Still, Wendy Barrie-Wilson is unusually harsh and shrill in her interpretation of the despairing Amanda Wingfield, though she does allow us to see her heartache. It is not unrealistic for Amanda to no longer be able to disguise her monstrousness with Southern charm. However, it is more satisfying when we can initially fall for her charm and then see it peeled away over the course of the first act.

Robert Petkoff’s Tom seems to perfectly fit Cuccioli's approach to the play. More real than poetic in his approach, he still manages to fully convey Williams’ poetic dreamlike dialogue. All too human, he is an angry and ultimately understandably selfish young man. He also conveys the sadness and truth in such lines as, “Time is the greatest distance between two places.”

Kevin Rolston is a solid, natural Gentleman Caller. However, missing here is a warmth and sense of poetry that can make this role transcendent.

Katherine Kellgren is a luminous Laura. This is an especially difficult role because Williams never fully spells out the roots and nature of her disability. Still, Kellgren manages to portray Laura as a three dimensional young woman, displaying her vulnerability and delicate appeal while maintaining the impenetrable mystery of a disturbed mind which resists the ministrations of those who love her.

Brian Ruggaber’s set design is highly evocative. He captures the dreamlike aspects of the play by producing only outlines and lightly latticed representations of doors and walls along with ruffled curtains overhead. To represent the oppressive reality of the play, he covers the entire back wall and sides of the stage with oppressive red brick walls. Excellent work here.

Similarly, Bruce Auerbach’s lighting design unobtrusively moves from naturalism to poetic effects. Hugh Hanson’s costumes are appropriate. His dress for Amanda in the second act is particularly notable.

What can one say about this beloved, very familiar American classic? Most impressive is the success with which Williams manages to make the play fully and equally about each of the three Wingfields; the success with which he blends the ethereal and realistic; and his ability to convey both the tragic and inspiring nature of the events at hand. Interestingly, there are clear references to Tom’s homosexuality, which were probably overlooked by most audiences when Menagerie was originally produced.

For those who are not overly familiar with this small, gentle Tennessee Williams masterpiece, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's sturdy and intelligent Glass Menagerie is well worth seeing.

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams runs through July 20. Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Route 124 (Madison Ave.) at Lancaster Road, Madison, on the campus of Drew University. Tues.-Sat. 8PM; Sat.& Sun. 2PM; Sun.7PM (except 7/20) Prices $43-$29. Purchase tix by phone – 973-408-5600 or online at www.ShakespeareNJ.org

Directed by Robert Cuccioli. Cast: Robert Petkoff (Tom); Wendy Barrie-Wilson (Amanda); Katherine Kellgren (Laura); Kevin Rolston (The Gentleman Caller).

Upcoming Productions:
July 16-August 3- That Scoundrel Scapin by Moliere (performed at the STNJ Outdoor Stage in Morristown on the campus of the College of Saint Elizabeth).
July 29-August 17 - William Shakespeare’s King John




Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey


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Bob Rendell



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