Broken Glass by Arthur Miller

Written when he was nearly 70 years old, Arthur Miller's Broken Glass, had been in his mind's development ever since his marriage to Marilyn Monroe ended shortly before her death in 1962. His portrait of a troubled woman who is the subject of doctors' scrutiny may well have resonance. Instead of a Hollywood starlet, Broken Glass tells the story of Sylvia Gelberg, a very ordinary but deeply feeling Jewish woman from Brooklyn in 1938. Struck down by a mystery paralysis that confines her to bed and wheelchair, she has been obsessively following the events in Germany following the Kristallnacht. Pouring over the newspapers with elegant fragility, she rails against everyone's supposed indifference to the violent events happening a continent away.

This is a gripping and thought provoking evening with every member of the cast giving a compelling performance

Her worried and adoring husband, Phillip, seeks the attentions of Dr Hyman, who concludes that the illness is psychosomatic.Despite having little knowledge of the field, he determines to treat her by delving into the cause, and the history of the Gelberg's marriage unfolds to Hyman's seductive and sympathetic ear.

Miller's later work has not been judged kindly but Broken Glass is widely recognised as an exception and it showcases his beautifully mundane dialogue in a compellingly human story. New Venture Theatre have managed to capture an especially good atmosphere with this production. With a spare but effective set you are surprisingly quickly submerged in an authentic depiction of 1930s Brooklyn, the minutia rattled off by Sylvia's sister Harriet, played by Lyn Snowdon snippily and to a lot of laughs, contributes heavily to the connection with this community. The furniture, the lighting and sound all serve their part to settle you into the creation. To be transported from here into a detailed visualisation of the growing menace on the streets of Berlin merely by Sylvia's verbal description is impressive. Janice Jones's habitation of Sylvia is marvellous. She gives Sylvia's sense of confusion, anger and anxiety real depth and emotional pull. It makes Dr Hyman's fascination with his patient very understandable.

Although this is a very good looking piece of theatre, some of the exchanges with Sylvia are set far to the right of the stage. This does limit the visual enjoyment for some seats and a small move inwards would have been appreciated.

Bob Ryder's deliberate and peevish portrayal of Philip is one that builds as the play progresses and we examine his uneasy relationship with his own Jewishness and the crushing weight of long held hurts in his marriage. The final exchange with his vaguely anti-semitic boss is powerful and a clear reminder that the character came from the same pen as Willy Loman. Against the frigidity of the Gelberg's marriage, Dr Hyman and his wife are played by Olivier Maigniez and Jen Ley to be adorably warm and sexy - totally engaging both together and apart.

This is a gripping and thought provoking evening with every member of the cast giving a compelling performance. To be enjoyed in a serious frame of mind.

Reviews by Julia French

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The Blurb

Sylvia Gellburg is stricken by a mysterious paralysis for which her doctor can find no cause. He realises she is obsessed by the news from Germany. It’s 1938. The Kristallnacht. However it’s what he learns of her relationship with her husband that crystallises the two seemingly unrelated situations.