If You’re Alive, You’re Afraid: BROKEN GLASS

Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

Presented by New Rep Theatre in partnership with the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA Boston Chapter).
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Jim Petosa

Sept. 5 – 27, 2015
Arsenal Center for the Arts
Watertown, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Watertown, MA) It is no wonder that America didn’t suspect that Adolf Hilter was a major threat to Europe, Germany, or the world. His staff lead a campaign that depicted him as a congenial yet private Everyman with a love of children and the outdoors. This branding made Hitler out to be a decent guy, not the Jew, intellectual, and LGBT hating dictator he was. America didn’t recognize Hitler for the power-hungry villain he was until it was almost too late. Marketing works, people. Raw Story has an excellent, rather brief article up. I highly suggest reading it for theatrical and historical perspective.

Broken Glass is about a marriage crumbling under the burdens of withering resentment and antisemitic self-loathing. It is the days after Kristallnacht and Germany was bleeding. The American govt. assumed that the violence wouldn’t last and offered no immediate assistance. At hearing of the tragedy in Berlin,  housewife Sylvia Gellburg (Anne Gottlieb) is suffering from an hysterical paralysis of the legs. She is treated by the compassionate and unconventional Dr. Hyman (Benjamin Evett) who is at a loss for options. Sylvia’s uptight, emotionally inept husband Phillip (Jeremiah Kissel) is experiencing a crisis of identity. In the days before patient confidentiality, Phillip and Hyman attempt to cure Sylvia.

This play is elegantly written and gorgeously acted. Jim Petosa and his cast perfectly capture the dichotomies of health and illness, belief and disbelief, and constant questioning of lived reality experienced by the disabled community and their allies. The audience doesn’t know who to trust; the overbearing, insensitive Phillip so overwhelmed by his own antisemitism that he’s incapable of expressing affection, or Sylvia, who is so possessed by the tragic events of Kristallnacht that she has hobbled herself through the conviction of her own mind.

While it was impressive to watch the cast work through all the twists, turns and unreliable realities, the element that made the night so captivating was the overall impression that the characters could trust themselves even less than anyone else. Dr. Hyman repeatedly tells us that Sylvia’s legs are capable of walking. Yet, Gottlieb had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand as she convinced us of her character’s honest inability to walk. Her bleeding desperation as a victim of insensitivity pains us and invigorates the production.  

From the moment we meet him, Kissel’s presence on stage is a source of anxiety and frustration. This is a man who projects unwellness to the nosebleed seats. From his seated posture alone, Kissel informs us that Phillip is an emotionally stagnant man. Kissel’s work is beautiful as he makes his character ugly.

Broken Glass is topical in many ways. Most prescient in this play are the issues of ability vs. disability. Any abled person can become disabled at any age. Granting and respecting the agency of the disabled community should not be a revolutionary act in 2015.

The Sept. 16 – 20 performances were presented using hearing loop assistive technology. Thank you, New Rep, for your consideration of the disabled community! We greatly appreciate your initiative at including the hearing impaired as equal participants in the performance.

 

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