''The future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it,'' says Amanda, the shrill and smothering Southern belle who meddles in the stunted lives of her two misfit adult children in The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams' classic play weaves the tortured memories of time and place into one hypnotic tableau, and The Roundabout Theatre Company resurrects those ghosts in a crafty Off Broadway revival that probes the nerves of its characters so mercilessly that the audience can inhale their desperation and remorse.
Director Gordon Edelstein has re-assembled much of the cast from an acclaimed production last year in New Haven, Conn. Two-time Tony winner Judith Ivey plays Amanda, the bewildered former debutante who pressures her underachieving son, Tom (Patch Darragh), to arrange a date for her crippled, pathologically shy daughter, Laura (Keira Keeley). Amanda is a role that could be mere caricature, but Ivey makes the woman sympathetic despite her constant hectoring.
One of the delights of the play's first act is watching the parallel dramas: Amanda's theatrical recitations of her shining youth and Tom's snide amusement as he observes his mother's self-absorption. Like her mousy character, relative newcomer Keira Keeley at first seems to get lost in the scenery. But there's subtle craft in Keeley's take on Laura's fragility, and her performance grows weightier and more complex as the story culminates in a candle-lit kiss with her oblivious gentleman caller. Michael Mosley (Scrubs), the only actor who didn't appear in the New Haven production, is a lightning bolt of reality as Jim O'Connor, the former high school hero tricked into appearing in the Wingfields' living mausoleum. Jim's own ambitions and concepts of self-improvement might be equally delusional, but at least he seems to be lost in the future instead of the past.
All four actors have mastered the space between Williams' words, squeezing every ounce of sardonicism and naked vulnerability into a mesmerizing collaborative performance. These are all pathetic characters, but the cast never winks, allowing them earnest qualities of endearment. The minimalist set with a typewriter, desk, bed, and dinner table conveys Tom's shifting reality with the effective use of a transparent scrim ''wall'' that allows Laura and Amanda to seem to enter into his head. And when the lights literally go out during the climactic scene, the shadows from the flickering candlelight illuminate more about Laura's heartbreak than any spotlight could. When she finally blows out the candles for the last time, it's difficult to feel as if something precious hasn't been extinguished from your own heart. A