Broken Glass

by David A. Rosenberg

There’s a Jewish saying that whoever destroys a soul, it is as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is as if he saved an entire world. In Arthur Miller’s hammering, well-intentioned but mundane late play, “Broken Glass” at the Westport Playhouse, the author proposes that by saving the world, you save individuals. It’s more treatise than drama by a playwright whose badge of honor has been speaking out, taking a stand.

The year is 1938. In Germany and Austria, the Nazis’ Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) is destroying Jewish stores, houses and synagogues. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Sylvia Gellburg is suddenly stricken with paralysis. Are the events connected?

Husband Philip enlists the help of Dr. Harry Hyman, as sleek, self-assured and vigorous as Philip is ridden with insecurities. Ambivalent about his heritage though proud to be the only Jew employed at a Brooklyn bank, Philip also feels that “being a Jew is a full-time job.”

Pulled between Hyman’s easy acceptance of his heritage and Sylvia’s fearful, over-wrought bond with hers, Philip is a mess. Add the fact that Sylvia and Philip haven’t had a conjugal bond for many years. Such dichotomies go on and on with lots of melodrama but little dramatic resolution, unless you count an aborted courtship between Sylvia and Hyman. Denial, whether social or sexual, public or private, leads to sterility.

Director Mark Lamos tries to goose the evening with a provocative opening, an abstract set, mysterious sounds and lots of sturm and drang. But the actors are adrift, not knowing whether they’re in a realistic or symbolic play. Opting for realism, Merritt Janson as Sylvia’s sister and Stephen Schnetzer as Dr.Hyman come off best.

“Broken Glass” goes for mind over heart. If only it had been able to grab our guts first, our thoughts afterwards.

 

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