In a stunningly joyous scene, a Jewish wedding, complete with bride and groom under a canopy, opens Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass at the Westport Country Playhouse. Then with one quick step, the groom shatters the ceremonial wedding glass, and the shattering of that glass escalates to the deafening sound of what can only be the sound of shattering worlds.
The sound is awesome — terrifying. Soon the audience learns that the broken glass is not only symbolic of a joyful new marriage, now broken to pieces some 20 years later, but also the glass ceiling that Jewish Phillip Gellburg was able to break through in a gentile-dominated field. This all plays out against the 1938 “Night of Broken Glass,” Nazi Germany’s “Kristallnacht,” when Nazis broke the glass windows of Jewish stores and businesses. This play, with all its sharp cutting edges, is the work of a master and it is directed by a master, Mark Lamos. A production like this comes along once in a hundred years.
Actually, it is the centennial year of playwright Arthur Miller who lived and wrote in Roxbury. Lamos pays homage to playwright and play with crystal clarity. The play made its debut at Long Wharf in New Haven in 1994, but since then it has been revised and revived. Under the magic directorial wand of Lamos, this play now stands tall among Miller’s other great works including All My Sons, The Death of a Salesman, and The Crucible.
Phillip Gellburg doesn’t know what to do about his wife Sylvia who has suddenly and mysteriously become paralyzed from the waist down. All of the tests she has taken are negative, which leads Dr. Harry Hyman to believe that Sylvia’s paralysis is psychological. At first the only possible connection to her situation is her obsession with what is going on in Nazi Germany. Her husband keeps pooh-poohing it and doesn’t even want to talk about it. He is a Jew in denial. However, as the good doctor probes the personal lives of Phillip and Sylvia, he discovers that their marriage has been crippled for a very long time.
Directed with a balance of mystery and morality, Lamos highlights Miller’s sense of American values. The mystery relates to the husband’s role in his wife’s paralysis and the morality deals with Nazi Germany. The American values of rising to the top in a job that sucks the life out of you is not as obvious in this play as it was in The Death of a Salesman, but Miller’s anti-capitalism shows through more subtly in Phillip’s boss who sails on yachts, while Phillip forecloses on real estate.
Performances are superior. Steven Skybell plays Phillip with emphasis on his dark side. Felicity Jones plays Sylvia with unbridled passion and Stephen Schnetzer has just the right flair for a womanizing doctor. Rounding out the cast with memorable performances are: John Hillner, Merritt Janson, and Angela Reed.
Michael Yeargan’s set design is a glass confection that mirrors the action perfectly. Candice Donnelly’s costumes are period-appropriate and David Budries’ sound design still echoes with the sound of shattering glass. Playing through Oct. 24, the box office can be reached at: 203-227-4177.
CORRECTION: In my review of “Moonlight and Magnolias,” I neglected to point out that John Bachelder was one of the actors who significantly contributed to the success of the Eastbound Theatre production in Milford. In my column, it should have read: Kudos to John Bachelder who plays Victor Fleming, the director pulled from the set of The Wizard of Oz. Bachelder is a natural when it comes to comic timing.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]