Review: Broken Glass, Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn.
This late work by Arthur Miller has echoes of early classics All My Sons and Death of a Salesman – wrapping a global issue in a family tragedy, with a tortured protagonist who builds his life on shaky ground.
But the psycho-sexual mystery at the heart of the play is more muddied and less compelling than Miller’s devastating critiques of capitalism. And the two and a half hour traffic is sometimes uncharacteristically flabby and repetitive.
Sylvia Gellburg is a Jewish New York housewife who suffers from hysterical paralysis upon reading of the Kristallnacht attacks.
Her stuffed shirt husband Phillip calls in local Dr, Harry Hyman to investigate. His unprofessionally amorous, amateur psychiatric probings uncover a complex story of sexual dysfunction, self-loathing and guilt.
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Miller, who came of age in depression-era New York, the son of an illiterate but wealthy Jewish immigrant who lost everything in the Wall Street crash, brilliantly evokes the pervasive anti-Semitism of the era, that has rendered Phillip a self-hating Jew.
The Nazi atrocities seem distantly relevant to isolationist Americans but are terrifyingly real to Sylvia, who has lived for decades with a man so desperate to assimilate that he toadys to his WASP boss and sends their only son to ultra establishment Westpoint Military Academy.
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Miller’s theme is the corrosive power of prejudice which eats Philip away, freezing his unhealthy adulation for Sylvia.
Antony Sher gives a slow-building performance as the apoplectically repressed mortgage forecloser, only at the last, currying sympathy as he is undone, yet redeemed by love.
He is ably supported by Emily Bruni as Sylvia’s sparky sister Harriet and Madeleine Potter as Dr Hyman’s worldly wise wife Margaret.
It’s a shame that Lucy Cohu’s fragile, febrile Sylvia has a one-note function for most of the piece – so that the marriage at the heart of this drama doesn’t ring true until the final scenes.
Until November 27.