Written by Arthur Miller
Well-written dialogue, intensely drawn characters highlight Miller drama
|Redtwist Theatre presents|
Review by Joy Campbell
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It’s fitting, then, that a play about the crippling effects of fear takes place in 1938, during FDR’s presidency.
The story revolves around Sylvia Gellburg (Jacqueline Grandt), a woman who has suddenly and for no apparent reason lost all feeling in her legs and can no longer stand or walk. Her husband, Phillip (Neal Grofman) takes her to local physician Dr. Harry Hyman (Michael Colucci) to determine what ails her, but when Dr. Hyman can find no physical basis for the illness he begins to suspect psychological causes.
Sylvia, who is Jewish, has become obsessed with newspaper reports of abuse by European Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Dr. Hyman believes that this obsession holds the key to understanding what he believes to be a hysterical illness. The events overseas have triggered something personal in Sylvia, but what?
Those who enjoy a good mystery will appreciate the typically Miller-esque manner in which clues tantalizingly unfold and pieces slowly come together to bring a complete picture into focus.
The play’s title is a reference to the German pogrom of Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, when windows of Jewish establishments were smashed all across Germany. It can also be seen as a reference to the mirror in which self-hating Phillip Gellburg sees his loathed “Jewish face,” and as a metaphor for the destruction of Sylvia’s carefully built life of self-denial, constructed to protect others.
The central theme here is fear: Sylvia’s unnamed, crippling fear; her husband’s fear of rejection because he’s a Jew; Dr. Hyman’s fear of his attraction to Sylvia, and his wife’s fear of his attraction to other women.
Miller also works in some good social commentary. When Sylvia cries out against the injustices perpetrated overseas, her husband can’t understand why she takes it so personally, but does boast that he’s the only Jew to ever be hired by his company. Dr Hyman had to study medicine in Germany, as American universities had quotas on Jews. Both men fail to see the connection between their own experiences at home and the situation unfolding abroad, and their obtuse attitudes only exacerbate Sylvia’s distress.
I don’t want to give away the play’s discoveries and resolution, but Miller does a good job of commenting on the ways in which people persecute themselves and, by extension, the people they love. Delicately building his story through progressively revealing dialogue, he deftly brings out the complexity in each person.
Jeff-Award-winner Jacqueline Grandt, as Sylvia, creates a genuinely moving woman who makes us feel her anguish as well as her frustration, while never coming across as a weak victim. As her volatile and short-tempered husband Phillip, Neal Grofman is so tightly wound that the stage vibrates with tension whenever he is on it. Phillip is perhaps the most complex of all the characters, and Grofman does an excellent job of bringing sympathy and vulnerability to an often abrasive personality.
As Dr. Hyman, Michael Colucci emanates such a calm, professional and caring manner that I found myself wanting to spend an hour in his office pouring out my woes. Where he falls slightly short, however, is in conveying his character’s struggle with the growing passion he feels for his patient. In his exchanges with Sylvia, his words tell us what we need to know, but his manner remains somewhat too platonic.
Susan Fay ably plays Dr. Hyman’s wife, Margaret, the non-Jew from Minnesota who injects a happy, hearty balance to the story. Likewise, Sylvia’s down-to-earth sister, Harriet, is an uncomplicated, candid woman who acts as Sylvia’s spokesperson. Robyn Okrant’s performance is sweet and engaging. As Stanton Case, Phillip’s boss, Mike Nowack has the smallest role, yet is a commanding presence in every scene in which he appears.
Thanks to dialect coach Eva Breneman, the believable New York/Brooklyn accents are a delight to hear. Joe Schermoly’s set is simple and effective: a few prop changes converts the small performance space from a doctor’s receiving room to a bedroom to an executive’s office. The action is carried out in the center, with the audience seated on two sides.
If you are a fan of well-written dialogue and intensely drawn characters, and if you enjoy a good enigma, Redtwist’s Broken Glass will not disappoint.
Broken Glass continues through November 18th at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $25-$30, and are available by phone (773-728-7529) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Redtwist.org. (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Jan Ellen Graves
Neal Grofman (Phillip Gellburg), Susan Fay (Margaret Hyman), Michael Colucci (Dr. Harry Hyman), Jacqueline Grandt (Sylvia Gellburg), Robyn Okrant (Harriet), Mike Nowak (Stanton Case), Laurie Koss, Jeff Bruce (understudies)
behind the scenes
Michael Colucci (artistic director, co-director, co-producer); Jan Ellen Graves (co-director, co-producer, photos, graphic design, marketing, programs); Willy Landon (asst. director); Shelby Glasgow (stage manager); Olivia Leah Baker (asst. stage manager, fight captain); Justin Castellano (production manager); Amanda Lautermilch (production assistant; Frank Sjodin (tech director, set construction assistant); Joe Schermoly (set design and construction); Christopher Burpee (lighting); Christopher Kriz (original music, sound design); Clare Kemock (costumes); Rachel S. Parent (costume assistant); Jeff Shields (properties); Chris Rickett (fight director); Garvin Jellison (master electrician); Cassandra Rose (dramaturg); Eva Breneman (dialect coach); Mary Reynard Liss (vocal coach); Charles Bonilla (box office manager); E. Malcolm Martinez (box office assistant); Johnny Garcia (associate producer)