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Broken Glass | New Jewish Theater

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With both women as redheads, one sharp and refined, the other round and bouncy, their physical appearances heightened the comparison.

 

By Arthur Miller
Directed by Deanna Jent
Through March 5, 2006

The year is 1938. Nazi violence against Jews has broken out across Germany. American Jews are reading about it in the newspaper. Some feel the fear, as if the attack were in their backyard. Others don’t. Or, at least, that’s what they tell themselves and others.

When Sylvia Gellburg (Lavonne Byers) suddenly finds herself unable to walk, her legs paralyzed, she and her husband Phillip (Kevin Beyer) turn to Dr. Harry Hyman (Bill Lynch) for help. Dr. Hyman seeks to get to the root of Sylvia’s troubles through a series of questions, learning about her disorder—which seems to have no physical cause—as he goes. While Phillip spends time working in a company where he is the only Jew to have achieved his high rank, as he likes to have it known, his wife spends time with the good doctor, growing inappropriately attached, it seems. The doctor’s wife, familiar with his philandering ways, grows suspicious of the two.

Given the setup, the ending may seem obvious, but to jump to such conclusions would be a mistake. The characters continue to question one another, led by the doctor, but nothing changes—until the day Phillip tells his boss (Greg Johnston) that he feels he is suspected of associating with a Jewish competitor, for no other reason than they are both Jewish. In the aftermath of that day, Sylvia and Phillip begin to see themselves, and each other, in a new light.

The set consisted of two primary areas, a raised platform for the Gellburg’s bedroom, with a bed, wheelchair, and night table, and another grouping on the floor with a desk and table, which served alternately as the doctor’s office and Phillip’s boss’s office. A change of props served to indicate the switch. The bedding distracted a bit from the overall effect, as the comforter and dust ruffle appeared not only to be modern, but also inexpensive—not seem in line with the financial security the Gellburgs had attained.

In the close quarters of the Sarah and Abraham Wolfson Studio Theatre, it would be difficult to feel distanced from nearly any production, but the audience doesn’t stand a chance with Broken Glass. The actors commanded attention, through strong presence and good blocking by the director, Deanna Jent. Particularly impressive was Beyer in the role of Phillip, portraying a man out of touch with himself and unaware of the disparity between the love he professed for his wife and the love she reflected back. Alternately portraying reasonable, angry, hurt, and desperate, Beyer gave a sincere, deep performance. As his wife, Byers served as a mirror of sorts, revealing with subtlety and feeling the direction their relationship had gone over the years. In the scenes between Dr. Hyman and Mrs. Gellburg, Byers was catlike, suspicious one moment, aloof, warm, and affectionate the next.

Kari Ely, as Dr. Hyman’s gentile wife, was the opposite of the elegant Mrs. Gellburg—laughing uproariously, exceptionally generous, but not immune to problems of her own. With both women as redheads, one sharp and refined, the other round and bouncy, their physical appearances heightened the comparison.

The characters were appropriately costumed for the late ’30s—or at least close enough for the effect to work on someone, such as myself, not yet born at that time. The lighting at its peak levels of brightness was as bright as interrogation lighting, but dimmed appropriately as the pitch of the play shifted to less-clear territory.

Beverly Field, cellist, provided incidental music for the production, lending a haunting, defeated air in the darkness of prop changes and shifting scenes, and never let it be forgotten that while a broken glass can be made to look whole, it will never again be as strong as it once was. Broken Glass is a strong reminder that many times, people see a glass on the way down, and no one moves to catch it.

The New Jewish Theater presents Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass through March 5 at the Sarah and Abraham Wolfson Studio Theatre (JCC, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur). Showtimes are 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $20 to $24. Group prices available. Reservations can be made by calling 314-442-3283. http://www.newjewishtheatre.com
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