Arthur Miller is acknowledged as one of the greatest American playwrights of all time. Many of his stories, including Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible and A View from the Bridge, continue to be popular classics. It is sad to say that Broken Glass is not in the same league as his other masterpieces.
Taking place in Brooklyn, New York, 1938, the plot of this North Coast Repertory Theatre production is about Phillip Gellberg (Ralph Elias), a frequently angry Jew who both loves and despises his religion. His wife, Sylvia Gellberg (Elaine Rivkin), is suddenly paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Sylvia’s doctor, Harry Hyman (North Coast Rep Artistic Director, David Ellenstein) reveals to Phillip that Sylvia’s condition is psychological and might be related to her fears about the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.
Director, Rosina Reynolds, does what she can with the material. Working with a spare set from Marty Burnett, she puts a lot of the emphasis on Arthur Miller’s prose and makes the audience feel like a fly on the wall with many of the conversations.
Broken Glass primarily focuses on three characters and they are all played by actors who give complex interpretations. As Phillip, Elias depicts a rough man who loves his spouse, yet cannot help but be cruel to her. Elias does not soften Phillip’s harsh personality at all, which makes him a haunting presence.
Rivkin is sympathetic and tragic to watch as a deeply unhappy person. Sylvia’s arguments with Phillip strike a chord, because her anger towards him is justified.
Ellenstein does fine work as a verbally witty womanizer and unofficial philosopher. He brings some much-needed lighthearted energy to a pretty grim environment.
Though composer Michael David Singer usually plays cello interludes in Broken Glass, Diana Elledge was playing the evening I saw it. The music uniquely contributes to the bleak tone on stage.
Miller’s script can be full of brilliant observations about Judaism, morality and persecution. The best exchanges are between Phillip and Harry, which are both gripping and highly entertaining.
Broken Glass might be one of Miller’s funnier works. Phillip’s anger and awkward mannerism can be played for laughs and a couple of the roles, including Harry, his wife, Margaret Hyman (Shana Wride) and Sylvia’s sister, Harriet (Kerry McCue) have a good amount of clever dialogue.
One of the major flaws with Miller’s writing are many instances of excess verbiage. There are rants that add nothing to the plot and cause events to drag.
He also attempts to make profound statements about the Gellbergs that leave little room for subtlety. Some of Miller’s other shows have grand themes, but they contain plenty of messages that weren’t always easy to interpret. Here, what you see is what you get. Despite these issues, Broken Glass could have still been a solid intimate mystery, if it weren’t for the bizarre conclusion. The dramatic final 30 seconds or so feels forced and gimmicky as opposed to being a natural part of the narrative.
Though it has a dedicated cast and crew, the San Diego premiere of Broken Glass suffers from ham-handed discussions as well as a soapy resolution. Having said that, Reynolds does showcase Miller’s distinct mastery of the written word. I encourage her and the rest of the players to work together in the future on other pieces from the immortal author.