Westport Country Playhouse
In the dark, intense world of Arthur Miller’s play “Broken Glass,” currently being given a masterful production at the Westport Country Playhouse, it seems as if everything could shatter at any given moment. The characters that populate this play include a woman who suffers from “hysterical paralysis,” a husband with a number of hidden secrets, and even the doctor in the show seems to have a mysterious past. As cunningly directed by the excellent Mark Lamos, the electricity onstage in “Broken Glass” could be cut with a knife.
In the program, it is stated that the play is set in Brooklyn, in November 1938, and the shadow of the Nazis and the threat of war seems to haunt everyone onstage. “Broken Glass” is staged in one tightly wound act, running about 90 minutes, with no intermission, which only intensifies the fear and danger that hangs over this play and production. With a flawless cast of six actors, “Broken Glass” is quite a searing evening of theatre and is highly recommended for anyone willing to take this show’s tension-filled ride.
The play opens with a man, Phillip Gellburg (portrayed by the remarkable Steven Skybell), in a doctor’s office trying to figure out why his wife has suddenly become unable to walk. There is talk that his wife’s legs went suddenly and mysteriously numb and Phillip is trying to find a physical reason of why this has happened. The doctor, skillfully played by Stephen Schnetzer, offers no easy answers and, instead, is actually more intent on asking probing questions. I am loathe to reveal anything more about the plot other than to say that this opening scene sets the tone for the haunted and shadowy world that these characters inhabit, where nothing is quite what it seems.
Director Mark Lamos has created a truly stunning production, and he works perfectly with his designers and actors. With echoes of Boris Aronson’s classic set for the original 1966 production of the musical “Cabaret,” the brilliant scenic designer Michael Yeargan has created a mirrored ceiling for “Broken Glass,” in which both the actors and the audience in the first few rows are reflected. This dizzying effect heightens and enhances Arthur Miller’s play and only deepens the terrifying and uncertain atmosphere that “Broken Glass” is enshrouded in.
As the paralyzed wife, Sylvia, Felicity Jones is amazing. She convincingly plays this physically handicapped woman, who spends her days pouring over newspapers filled with the news of the Nazis and the Jewish people who are their victims. Actually, this theme of anti-Semitism runs like a hot wire through “Broken Glass” and it affects just about everyone onstage, to varying degrees. Pointedly, Sylvia’s husband, Phillip seems to want to distance himself from other Jews: indeed, he speaks incessantly about being the only Jewish person to ever ride on the boat belonging to his boss, Stanton Case (creepily played by the gifted John Hillner). As the other two characters onstage, Merritt Janson is fine as Sylvia’s sister Harriet and Angela Reed provides the sole bright spot in the play, as the doctor’s wife Margaret, whose infectious laugh manages to fill the stage with much needed joy.
In “Broken Glass,” the world onstage seems to have been turned upside down and shaken, with uncertainty and dark secrets hanging over the entire landscape of the play. With the ominous feeling of fear and danger clinging to the characters, this show is certainly not for the faint-hearted or those looking for a light evening of entertainment. But director Mark Lamos and his sensational actors have remained true to the spirit of Arthur Miller’s play. They offer a scary, nerve-racking, and utterly unforgettable theatrical experience and, for that reason alone, Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Broken Glass” ranks as a must-see.
“Broken Glass” continues performances through October 24, 2015. For tickets, please visit http://www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4117.