“Against the Glass” shows sporadic moments of promise; there are, in other words, a few good lines from writer Marci Crestani. There are many more moments, however, where this first play feels unformed. Lacking in story and built on flimsy characterizations, the work becomes increasingly simplistic and contrived, sometimes painfully so. Director Jenny Sullivan and an experienced cast provide a surface of professionalism to an amateur work, and somehow that superficial gloss only makes matters worse. Nobody ends up coming off well.
Set in the present-day Illinois countryside, “Against the Glass” takes place at the home of elderly couple Ed (Joseph Medalis) and Zebe (Bette Rae, who has replaced Shannon Welles). As the play begins, Ed and Zebe anticipate the arrival of their granddaughter Amy (Saxon Trainor), a struggling artist in San Francisco. The last time Amy visited, she bestowed on her grandparents some of her abstract art, which Ed and Zebe scurry to find in the garage and hang before Amy arrives so as not to hurt her feelings.
The conflict between Amy and her grandparents — especially the cynical joker Ed — begins with the art, but moves quickly into other areas. Amy is trying to start over after a failed relationship with a married man, and Zebe confides for the first time that Ed was a highly unfaithful husband.
Zebe also announces to Amy that she’s secretly loved another man for years without ever acting on it. Her explanation for this silence is purely generational: “Women of my generation did not get divorced,” Zebe explains to her granddaughter, “we crocheted.” And, true to her word, Zebe has packed away multiple crocheted blankets in the garage.
This overburdened garage, it turns out, is also home to a hidden box of photos that Ed secretly keeps stowed away. It contain photos of his many previous paramours, and in a truly ridiculous scene, he pulls them out and speaks to them.
Crestani creates lots of melodramatic prop possibilities, and throws in an obvious metaphor or two, but never gets around to incorporating them into a story.
Unsure of what it has to say or how to say it, the play feels like a very rough draft and comes off as a pretentious exercise. While bits of dialogue can occasionally be amusing, they almost never have any essential relationship to the rickety plot.
Sullivan and the actors can do little with the sentimentality or the cheap jokes. Rae leaves nothing to the imagination of the audience, revealing Zebe’s every hidden thought with transparent facial expressions. Medalis seems to be auditioning for the Peter Boyle role in “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but, while he has the only clever lines, the character still comes off as charmless.
Saxon Trainor has an actorish presence which, oddly, fits in well with the unpleasant fakeness of the whole show. The awkwardness of the language often leads to dropped lines.
Even the very realistic set design from Thomas Buderwitz feels claustrophobic and unwittingly exaggerates the unrealistic, and somehow condescending, quality of this depiction of middle America.