note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
There’s something wrong with Sylvia Gellburg - so wrong, it’s paralyzing her. It’s November 11, 1938, the day after infamous kristallnacht,when marauding groups smashed Jewish storefronts and synagogues across Germany. Sylvia lives in Brooklyn, NY, but obsessively reads the newspapers. Suddenly, she can’t stand or move her legs.
Her husband, Phillip, is distraught, frustrated. He loves her so much, it’s crippling.
Popular, former ladies’ man-family physician, Dr. Harry Hyman, is fascinated with Sylvia’s case - and Sylvia. He thinks her sudden paralysis is psychosomatic, and recommends she see a psychiatrist who deals in cases like hers. But Sylvia insists on Dr. Hyman treating her. “You understand me,” she says, as their relationship draws them closer together.
At New Repertory Theatre’s Charles Mosesian Theater in Watertown, a Boston star-studded cast, helmed by visionary artistic director/director Jim Petosa, is breathing vibrant life into the tension-filled, allegoric and introspective production of Arthur Miller’s lesser-known, 1994 play, “Broken Glass”.
The play is psychological and mysterious, punctuated with several powerful scenes. And, luckily, Petosa adds inside insight here. In 1996, during his 20-year leadership at Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, Md., Petosa decided to present “Broken Glass”. Surprisingly, Miller heard about it and offered to consult frequently with Petosa.
“‘Broken Glass’ was a significant play for [Miller], and it was clear it meant a lot to him,” said Petosa. “When I announced we were going to do the Washington, DC premiere, he was so pleased! “He [later] sent us a telegram, wishing us well, saying, ‘I hope the theater does well with my sad little play.’ ”
Miller died Feb. 10,2005, at age 89, but Petosa never forgot Miller’s graciousness and generosity. As a tribute to Miller’s birthday centennial, (he was born Oct. 17, 1915), Petosa has opened New Rep’s season with “Broken Glass”. “Like all of Miller’s work, he has a gift for taking human stories and finding universal truth... It’s so resonant for everyone who sees it - his gift in full flower,” Petosa added.
Petosa carefully handpicked a magnificent cast. Anne Gottlieb portrays Sylvia; Jeremiah Kissel, her self-hating Jewish husband, Phillip; Benjamin Evett, Dr. Hyman; Christine Hamel, Sylvia’s sister, Harriet; Michael Kaye,wealthy WASP businessman Stanton Case, who thinks Phillip screwed him out of a big development deal; and Eve Passeltiner, Dr. Hyman’s loving wife, Margaret. The play revolves - literally- around Sylvia and what’s happening to her, residually affecting everybody involved.
“Sylvia connects to something inside of her, and she doesn’t know what,” said Anne Gottlieb. “Her legs stop working. She doesn’t know why, but she thinks there’s a physical explanation and is told early in the play there isn’t.”
Fascinated with Sylvia, Hyman spends more one-on-one time with her, probing into her life choices and her relationship with Phillip. Hyman also delves into Phillip’s psyche, striking a few nerves. In Kissel’s self-humbling portrayal of Phillip, he speaks too softly at times.
Scott Pinkney’s lighting casts shadows of suspicion and doubt, while David Remedios’ sound effects punctuate escalating fear and symbolic shattered glass.
The solution isn’t simple, though. Miller’s web of character interaction is compelling, provocative, and open to interpretation. He unlocks mysteries slowly, strategically, building to an unexpected ending.
And you must watch carefully. As Jon Savage’s handsome set revolves around Sylvia’s centrally located bed, the stage’s circular rim, adorned with few furniture props and accessories, highlight a business office, Dr. Hyman’s office, and more.
Designer Molly Trainer’s historically accurate 1930s costumes authenticate the play’s innuendo. When equestrian enthusiast Dr, Hyman visits Sylvia, he usually wears tall, black riding boots, similar to Nazi troopers’; yet Sylvia admires, not fears them. As
Sylvia and Hyman become more flirtatious, she gussies up, in fetching nightgowns, makeup, and hairstyle.
Their lives are changed, shattered, when the unexpected occurs.
Kissel explained, “The play is a universal look at outside pressures and their effect on humanity. [It] isn’t about the Nazis; it’s about fear and how humans handle fear.”
It resonates strongly with today’s precipitous terror threat. We know it. We feel it. We want to pretend it doesn’t exist and doesn’t affect us. But, like Sylvia, deep inside, we know it’s there, and it’s crippling us.
BOX INFO: Boston area premiere of Arthur Miller’s two-act play, “Broken Glass,” appearing through Sept. 27, with New Repertory Theatre at the Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown: Sept. 16,17,at 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 17-19,25, at 8 p.m.; Sept. 26, at 3,8 p.m.; Sept. 20,27, at 2,7:30 p.m. Tickets, $30-$65, senior,student,group discounts. Call the Box Office at 617-923-8487 or visit newrep.org.