Examining a multi-faceted ‘Glass Menagerie’

by Peter Filichia/Star-Ledger Staff

Friday April 18, 2008, 10:00 PM

The Glass Menagerie. Where: Tri-State Actors Theater, 74 Main St., Sussex. When: Through May 11.
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. How much: $20 Thursdays, $30 all other performances.
Call (973) 875-2950 or visit 
tristateactorstheater.org.

No sooner does one fascinating production of “The Glass Menagerie” close than another one opens.

Fresh on the heels of Two River Theater Company’s success with Tennessee Williams’ 1944 classic,
the Tri-State Actors Theater of Sussex stages a production that also opts for something new.

One could be cynical and say the reason the play is so often chosen is that its one set and four characters
don’t break the bank. But just as Robert Rechnitz at Two River showed he had a new idea in mind, so does
director Paul Meacham here.
   
While Rechnitz had a new, proactive slant for Laura — the physically and emotionally disabled young woman
whose life is passing her by — Meacham is more interested in her brother Tom, the unhappy warehouse worker
who’s yearning to break free of his home. Tom is the narrator of this “memory play,” as he calls it. He draws us
into the story of his mother Amanda, who puts on a happy face much of the time, but is aware that “the future
becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret.”
  
Tom is mostly portrayed with shame in place as he begins narrating: He isn’t proud of how he deals with his
destitute and demanding mother and his loving but fragile sister. However, actor Bill Edwards starts off blithely,
as if he were telling the story of a family he never knew.
   
That sounds as if it were a mistake, but Edwards and Meacham know what they’re doing. In the final scene, the
actor reaches a day-of-reckoning moment when he can no longer sustain his cavalier approach. Many Lauras
have been close to nervous breakdowns in other “Glass Menageries”; here’s one in which Tom shares her pain
and the danger of cracking.
  
Katie Tame’s Laura shows more delicacy than usual, especially in the scene where she recalls hearing that the
boy she loved unrequitedly in high school became engaged. Though Tame is a young actress, she has the ability
to make her face look careworn beyond her years.
  
As Amanda, Mary Ann Hay expertly conveys the Southern belle charm that allows the audience to believe that,
yes, there was a time when no fewer than 17 men showed up at her door one afternoon. Usually, at play’s end,
Amanda ferociously lashes out at Tom and doesn’t care if she hurts Laura’s feelings. Hay pauses before this
moment comes, and shows a mother’s unconditional love instead.
  
Unfortunately, Gordon Gray, as the gentleman caller whom Tom brings home for Laura, comes off more as a
glad-hand, even a con-man who needs to be taken down a peg. Laura’s better off without him.