The Glass Menagerie 
by Tennessee Williams


Directed by Robert Cuccioli

Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey


A mother with more strength and less despair.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff

Jessica Tandy once portrayed Amanda Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie" -- and failed. Julie Harris later attempted the role, too, and fared even less well.

But Wendy Barrie-Wilson, with far less fame and reputation, is giving an astonishing performance as Tennessee Williams' famous faded Southern belle. She's well worth seeing in the production at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison.

Too many actresses stress Amanda's bitterness at being abandoned by her husband. Many actresses overdo her despair at having two grown children who still live with her. Tom has a low-paying job. Laura has a limp. Neither has prospects.

Barrie-Wilson instead masks Amanda's discouragement, and looks to the future. True, the slightest sad memory can immediately dash her mood. But she doesn't stay down for long. She listens intently to whatever her kids have to tell her, though the glint in her eye shows she's holding out for good news. If none comes, she rebounds. Even after Tom insults her, she patiently waits for the apology that she knows will come.

The actress stresses Amanda's strength. After she intones, "Life calls for Spartan endurance," she bolts up from her chair and stands ram-rod straight to illustrate how brute force must be used to combat adversity. Her two scenes where she gives her all to her telemarketing job are quite moving, too.

But when Amanda is happy -- which she is, after Tom announces he's bringing home his pal Jim to meet Laura -- she literally jumps with joy, and becomes the coquette of yore. Yet what Barrie-Wilson most brings to the part, shown through her smile and her soul, is her genuine love for her children. She hugs, caresses, and tickles them the way loving parents do. Most Amandas don't.

Purists may carp that a theater devoted to Shakespeare is presenting a play that was written 328 years after the Bard wad buried. But Malvolio is mentioned in the first act, Romeo in the second, and Jim calls Tom "Shakespeare" quite a bit. Still, even if none of these names showed up in the text, any theatergoer would be grateful that Wendy Barrie-Wilson is on stage.  




 Posted: Wed., Jul. 9, 2003, 12:05am PT 
"The Glass Menagerie" 

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. 


By: Stuart Duncan , TimeOFF

There is nothing amiss about The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's staging of Tennessee Williams' autobiographical classic.

   The Wingfield family of St. Louis may be dysfunctional, but there is nothing amiss about The Glass Menagerie on stage at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. The play, considered Tennessee Williams' most autobiographical, is getting a fresh, compelling airing by director Robert Cuccioli and a cast of four that not only rises to the level of "must-see" but delivers one of the finest productions of any Williams' work ever seen.
   What has happened is that he and his actors have found moments never seen in past productions. One example will suffice: The first act is subtitled "Preparation for the Gentleman-Caller." And when Tom casually announces he is bringing a young man home for dinner from the warehouse where both work, his mother, Amanda, turns positively giddy. No hint of the future, no traces of Medea so common in other Amandas just happily giddy.

   You see what director Cuccioli and his company Robert Petkoff as Tom; Wendy Barrie-Wilson as a superb Amanda; Katherine Kellgren as the fragile Laura; and Kevin Rolston as the Gentleman-Caller of Act II have discovered is that Amanda is not just the raging control freak so often offered, but a mother desperate to hold the family together.

   One cannot say enough about the cast. Ms. Barrie-Wilson is a marvelously complicated Amanda caring, furious, flirtatious, supplicating, living in the past even as she is determined to construct a future.

   And so "a memory play" throws off the dust of six decades and becomes fodder for today. This production will burn itself into your own memory.