If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Late Miller Work -- “Broken Glass” in Westport
A Jewish woman lies paralyzed in her Brooklyn home unable to move and obsessed with news reports from Germany. It’s 1938 and horrific anti-Semitic events are a daily occurrence. Is this a legitimate paralysis or hysterical in nature? Could it have something to do with her apparent loveless marriage or her attraction to her new doctor? Arthur Miller’s play, “Broken Glass”, poses these questions and more in a later (and lesser) work by the playwright currently in revival at the Westport Country Playhouse.
“Broken Glass” premiered at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre in 1994 before transferring to Broadway where it received middling reviews and ran under three months. It’s hard sometimes being a legend and someone like Arthur Miller, like many great writers, is often in the unenviable position of trying to top his last play. For Miller, it meant coming up to the level of such classics as “Death of a Salesman” and “All My Sons”. “Broken Glass” is not in the same ballpark. It’s not even in the same area code. The play is being produced in conjunction with Miller’s 100th anniversary, but I can think of several better titles the Playhouse could have selected.
Often resembling a “woman’s picture” from the 1940s with its desperate heroine and naive medical psycho-babble, “Broken Glass” is all heightened melodrama as it charts the marital problems between bedridden Sylvia (Felicity Jones) and her self-hating husband Phillip (an overwrought Steven Skybell). Sylvia’s doctor (Stephen Schnetzer) is caught between the couple trying to diagnose her paralysis and appease her husband. It’s difficult to know in a play like this where to assign blame (writing? acting? direction?) and it didn’t help that I caught the drama shortly after seeing Yale Rep’s remarkable “Indecent”, an exciting new play that also tackles the “Jewish problem”.
Directed by Mark Lamos, the performances are uneven throughout. The actors all have admirable credits but, in the case of the men at least, much of the acting seems loud and unconvincing. Skybell has an impossible role that has him automatically switch personalities like someone afflicted with bi-polar disorder. One moment he is pleasant and agreeable and the next he is screaming or writhing on the floor in tears. It’s an outlandish performance. John Hillner, playing Phillip’s condescending WASP boss, is saddled with a stereotypical, one-note role and it is played as such. Stephen Schnetzer’s doctor seems all surface and not nearly as complicated as a man who may have fallen in love with his patient should be. Jones is fine as Sylvia and her final scene, which will either make your gasp or guffaw depending on your sensibilities, is played about as well as can be expected. Good contributions are also provided by Angela Reed, as the doctor’s practical wife and Merritt Janson, as Sylvia’s concerned sister.
Michael Yeargan’s striking scenic design includes a reflective glass over the playing area which mirrors the onstage action in vivid sharp angles while Stephen Strawbridge’s moody lighting adds a haunting quality. The excellent sound design is what we’ve come to expect from a pro like David Budries. All told, however, this is a difficult piece to pull off and miles away from one of the great playwright’s masterworks.
“Broken Glass” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through October 24. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203. 227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.