Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Broken Glass
Westport Country Playhouse
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Indecent and Veils and Zander's review of Tuesdays with Morrie


Stephen Schnetzer
and Felicity Jones

The revival of Arthur Miller's Broken Glass, which continues at Westport Country Playhouse through October 24th, is not easily categorized. It draws focus, in 1938 in Brooklyn, upon a couple and a doctor. Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") has just occurred in Nazi Germany. This production opens with a loud crash and the symbolism is clear: Germans have shattered windows in Jews' temples and stores ... and what does this mean?

Sylvia Gellburg (Felicity Jones) has suddenly lost the use of her legs. She is bedridden. Reading that German Jews are coerced to scrub streets and sidewalks, she is beyond dismay. Sylvia's relationship with her husband Phillip (Steven Skybell) has been dysfunctional for years. Now, though, their friend Dr. Harry Hyman (Stephen Schnetzer) arrives and suggests that he cannot find a physical cause in Sylvia's case. Thus, he recommends that her mind must precipitate the condition and difficulty.

Dr. Hyman's wife Margaret (Angela Reed) is a chortling woman who laughs easily and has full knowledge that Harry has indulged in more than a few affairs. Quite verbal, he asks questions about the quality of sexual intimacy Sylvia and Phillip have or have not enjoyed. Everyone wants Sylvia to (somehow) put her legs down and walk. The physician finds her attractive and it is not a leap to infer that she has had feelings for him, too.

Phillip Gellburg does not like himself. He is outraged when anyone mistakenly thinks his last name is Goldberg. Overbearing in his zeal to get his wife back on her feet and dealing with a work situation at a mortgage bank which spirals downward as he is confronted by his supervisor Stanton Case (John Hillner), Phillip is a mess and cuts an unsympathetic character. The doctor explains that he is not a psychologist yet he presses on with the notion that Sylvia can overcome her malady.

Mark Lamos, the smart, gifted versatile man of theater and one who knew the playwright well, directs this play which is unlike most if not all of the dextrous Miller's body of work. Lamos and his cast members exaggerate, amplify, and stretch traits. Sylvia Gellburg shrieks with panic and she is miserably unhappy. Of course, she is married to a man who claims she is everything to him; but he is boorish. It is difficult to trust Dr. Harry Hyman (also a horseman) and actor Skybell, at the beginning of a recent performance, seemed to be reciting his dialogue. As the evening moved along, the usually excellent performer became more believable.

In Germany at this time, Nazis burned synagogues, trashed shops run by Jews, and more. In Brooklyn, a woman is terrified and horrified that she can no longer walk. She discerns that individuals near her are not fully cognizant or lack the awareness that devastation sweeps through Germany as it does through her personal situation.

Perhaps all of this was reality—in Brooklyn—in 1938. The production is filled with high drama which yields, at times, to even more expansive melodrama. Phillip gets into an argument, near the end of the play, with his boss. A heart attack levels Phillip and it becomes clear that he will not survive. He asks his wife to forgive him. During these moments, each is severely physically afflicted ...

Harriett (Merritt Janson) is Sylvia's sister and she is one person who seems grounded and sane. Angela Reed's depiction of Margaret Hyman reveals a woman who, on the surface, giggles, but beneath, comprehends her plight. Neither Phillip nor Harry is all that appealing. In some ways, Broken Glass is a depiction of desperate, wanting souls. Michael Yeargan's scenic design includes large, sloped window-like configurations high above the players. Thus, one is able to watch slightly blurred distortions of them, if so desired, through reflection.

Broken Glass continues at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut through October 24th, 2015. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.


- Fred Sokol


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