Star-Ledger Times

Director handling 'Glass' with care
Friday, June 20, 2003
BY PETER FILICHIA
Star-Ledger Staff


When Robert Cuccioli starred in "Jekyll & Hyde" on Broadway, he played both title roles. In "The Glass Menagerie" at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison, he'll be, in a sense, in all four roles.It's often been said a director plays all the parts in a show. Cuccioli makes his dramatic directorial debut with the Tennessee Williams classicthat opens Tuesday.

"When Bonnie (J. Monte, the theater's artistic director) asked me to stage it, my heart stopped," Cuccioli says of "The Glass Menagerie." "It's a well-known piece, but not to me. I read it and saw the movie when I was younger, and did a few monologues for acting class. But I really didn't know it."In "The Glass Menagerie," Amanda Wingfield fears for her two adult children still living at home. Tom is "a dreamer" who isn't applying himself at his warehouse job. Laura is physically disabled, and has been aimlessly walking around town when she's supposed to be at secretarial school.

Cuccioli says he can relate to Tom. His parents thought he was dreaming when he gave up a Wall Street brokerage job for acting. "My mother cried when I told her. She was supportive to some extent when I acted for a lark in community theater. Once I quit my job, she was traumatized." Amanda, the "Menagerie" mother, certainly is emotional. "There's a misconception she's a witch and a bad mother," Cuccioli says. "She doesn't handle things quite appropriately, but she's an amazing survivor with a heart in the right place. Finding an actress with that drive and tender underbelly wasn't easy, but Wendy Barrie-Wilson came in and had both qualities."

Cuccioli's other directing experience was with productions of "Jekyll & Hyde" in Westchester, N.Y., and Pittsburgh. "Jekyll & Hyde" was a show he knew inside out and he turned it inside out, too, making "Facade" the opening number and restoring "Bring in the Men," which had been dropped for Broadway."In Westchester, I only had a week and a half of rehearsals, and in Pittsburgh, a week," he says. "Both times, I had 20 people in the show. Here, I knew I'd have four weeks of rehearsal with four people, but the quick pace was in my system, and we ended up getting the whole thing up on its feet in a week. That gave me so much time to start tearing it apart and honing the moments that have to be accentuated."

Cuccioli said he knows there will be "Jekyll & Hyde" fans --affectionately known as "Jekkies" -- in the Madison audiences.

"They're so wonderful to follow me wherever I go," he says. "After all this time, maybe we can call them 'Cuccis.'"

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