Thursday, 5 June 2014

Broken Glass - GRADS (5 June 2014)

1938 and the infamous Kristallnacht takes the harassment of Jews in Nazi Germany to new levels as a precursor of the horror to come. In Brooklyn, a Jewish woman - Sylvia Gellburg (Maree Grayden) - obsessed by the newspaper reports of the persecution suddenly finds herself unable to walk. Baffled by this, her husband Phillip (Geoff Miethe) engages the services of Doctor Hyman (Neil Cartmell) who becomes personally invested in finding the cause.

The great Arthur Miller, Nazis, American Jews and what was billed as a mystery has me intrigued. What I quickly come to realise is that this play is essentially two things: a kitchen sink, husband-wife melodrama; and an exploration of what it means to be Jewish. I have no personal context for the latter which infuses the play especially in the second act and therefore I felt emotionally distant from its characters and message. The ‘mystery’ of the marital breakdown is related to this over-arching theme and allusions to events in Germany are none too subtle thematic buttresses.

However, I was interested in how the play was constructed, predominantly as a series of two-handers with only two, maybe three moments I recall with more than two people in a scene - Husband and Doctor, Doctor and Wife, Husband and Wife, Doctor’s Wife and Husband, Wife and Sister and so on. This means it’s quite a static play and very dialogue heavy.

The set is beautifully appointed – stage left is the doctor’s office; centre stage is the Gellburg’s bedroom; stage right is the office of Stanton Case (Phillip Mackenzie) who Phillip works for. Cellist Sophie Parkinson-Stewart is situated back of stage behind a transparent screen and adds texture and tone with music composed by Grant Olding.

Cartmell is good as Doctor Hyman but in many ways his character is essentially a device – his occupation allows him to constantly ask questions of both husband and wife to probe and reveal the true state of the Gellburg marriage. In this respect many of the questions are oddly personal. There is an attraction manufactured between his character and Sylvia that allows him to (almost) get away with this. Grayden gives a strong performance as the neglected wife though the latter stages do verge into heavy melodrama as confessions are made and declarations intoned.

Georgia Jones as Mrs. Hyman adds much needed sassiness and Sally Barendse has a couple of lovely moments as Sylvia’s sister, Harriet. These two characters add life to what otherwise is pretty earnest material. Mackenzie has three scenes as the wealthy businessman who gets cheated out of a property deal due to Phillip’s misunderstanding of events. Miethe, however, did not have the best of nights as the main character, struggling with his dialogue throughout. Hopefully this is only opening night nerves as it affected key scenes, his characterisation, and created a few awkward moments.

I found the play difficult to embrace as it has a very specific message in mind which I can intellectually understand but have no emotional connection to. It is, however, an Arthur Miller play so there are some nicely written exchanges and the cello music does add another layer.

Directed by Barry Park, Broken Glass is on at the Stirling Theatre in Innaloo until 14 June.

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