In its current revival at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, "The Glass Menagerie" reaffirms the wondrous spell Tennessee Williams can cast. The production marks the dramatic directorial debut of Robert Cuccioli, once Broadway's elusively cunning Jekyll and Hyde. Under his perceptive guidance, the play's gentle humor emerges.

In its current revival at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, “The Glass Menagerie” reaffirms the wondrous spell Tennessee Williams can cast. The production marks the dramatic directorial debut of Robert Cuccioli, once Broadway’s elusively cunning Jekyll and Hyde. Under his perceptive guidance, the play’s gentle humor emerges, and its evocative melancholia envelops the heart and singes the soul.

The Amanda of Wendy Barrie-Wilson is exceptionally absorbing. As a faded, displaced former Southern belle, she is grandly garrulous and annoyingly possessive. Her reaction to the upcoming visitation of a gentleman caller with her shy, crippled daughter is all spirited flutter, touched with giddy grandeur.

Recalling the genteel Southern charm of her youth, she sweetly captures the rhythm and grace of Williams’ poetic text. All the desperation, warmth and humor are in place. She is one of the finest Amanda Wingfields in memory, and can proudly take her place alongside the memorable Amandas in this critic’s experience: Helen Hayes, Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris and Maureen Stapleton.

Kevin Rolston is wonderful as the amiable Gentleman Caller. He is a most charming extrovert, warmly ingratiating and a tad naive. His approach to the role is hearty but sensitive. He manages to take the second act and make it his own.

As the poet-narrator, entrapped son and would-be adventurer Tom, Robert Petkoff handles the expositional monologues keenly, with a poignantly reflective demeanor. Katherine Kellgren is a sweet, willowy Laura; a girl with a slight now-and-again limp, to suggest she is little more than an emotionally crippled loner. The playwright intended that Laura’s “defect need not be more than suggested,” and Kellgren and the director have made a point of not exaggerating the issue.

Bruce Auerbach has graced a memory play with memory lighting, cradling the stage with an enveloping glow. There are plaintive violin passages filling the air, and waltzing refrains emanate from the Paradise Dance Hall across the alley. The faded antimacassars on the furniture, the miniature glass figures shining beneath the glimmering candlelight — all complement a nearly 60-year-old play that never betrays its age.

The Glass Menagerie

F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater, Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, Madison, N.J.; 308 seats; $43 top

Production

A Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey presentation of a play by Tennessee Williams in two acts. Directed by Robert Cuccioli.

Creative

Set, Brian Ruggaber; costumes, Hugh Hanson; lighting, Bruce Auerbach; sound, Richard M. Dionne; stage manager, Mindy Richardson. Artistic director, Bonnie Monte. Opened, reviewed June 28, 2003. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast

Tom - Robert Petkoff Amanda - Wendy Barrie-Wilson Laura - Katherine Kellgren Gentleman Caller - Kevin Rolston

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