By Elana Katz
Bareness and desolation enter the audience’s mind upon viewing the stage of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass.
Set designer Mike Britton’s manipulation of the stage is truly impressive and certainly quite striking. The eye is drawn to a magnanimous wooden bed that is always present, but is never an overt distraction. Two wooden chairs sit directly across from each other, widening the space for more action. Peeling walls outfit the entire room and bring it all together, creating a space that is in decay.
Amongst all of Britton’s well-orchestrated darkness, there is some light on the stage. The bed is dressed with perfectly white sheets with stringy single light bulbs hanging overhead, presenting a vast contrast to the eerie room. These are the makings of Broken Glass’ beautifully bare set, appealing to my inner modern art lover.
The level of artistry seems minimal, but pulling inspiration from abandoned hospitals and the artwork of Edward Hopper is truly beautiful. The constant juxtapositions of life and death and dark and light correlate to Miller’s script.
The play is set in Brooklyn, home to Philip and Sylvia Gellburg, but another world creeps in: Germany, presenting two vastly different Jewish worlds. In Germany, Adof Hitler and the Nazi party are on the rise, spreading anti-Semitism and persecuting minorities, primarily Jews. It is the death of a prominent Nazi officer that motivates the destruction of all Jewish storefronts in Germany on November 9th and 10th, known as Kristalnacht, or the “night of broken glass.”
Very much like Kristalnacht, the Gellburg’s marriage is broken during the final days of 1938 in New York, where the production takes place on a domestic level. I admire director Iqbal Khan’s production concept because it upholds Broken Glass’ beautiful juxtaposition of turmoil on both a personal and political scale. Neither is given too much attention, creating a dynamic that allows for a harmonious blend of the two different worlds.
Khan maintains a stability that allows for the historical context to shine through the rich dialogue. This is a worthwhile decision because it bolsters Miller’s originally offered relationship. Furthermore, Khan and Britton’s harmonious relationship allow for Brooklyn and Germany to truly come alive without the use of many props and a large set.
Having skilled actors such as Antony Sher, Tara Fitzgerald, and Stanley Townsend act on a beautifully bare stage really pushes them to take charge in setting the scene. It also promotes the universality of the story.
Keeping the surrounding world at a minimum presents an unbiased approach, despite the story’s exclusive nature. It allows the audience to take away what they themselves want the play to accomplish.
It is much to Khan’s directorial clarity that even though the story surrounds events beginning in 1938, the sentiments can be applied to subsequent tragedies. From the genocides that occurred in Rwanda, Armenia, and beyond, all make Broken Glass applicable to today.
My overall impression of the play is tremendously positive. The caliber of the cellist, designer, director, and actors are so high that every step towards developing the play is done with ease.
All parts of the production are developed in a way that assures me that I am seeing the best possible version of Broken Glass, allowing it to truly come alive.