Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
October 25, 2013
What happens in the face of abject fear? Paralysis, perhaps. Maybe even murder.
In a thriller like “Wait Until Dark,” the fear factor is incrementally escalated – for characters and audience alike. In Arthur Miller’s rarely seen “Broken Glass,” fear triggers the plotline that hinges on a mystery whose resolution remains murky to the end.
It’s amazing to think we’re seeing the San Diego premiere of an Arthur Miller play – considering that it first opened in 1994 and Miller died in 2005. He claimed that when he created the piece, his mind was on the atrocities in Rwanda and Serbia. But the catalyst for this drama of identity and commitment is Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of Broken Glass,’ when rampaging Nazis shattered the windows of Jewish homes, businesses and temples in Germany and Austria. Coincidentally, 2013 is the 75th anniversary of that heinous event.
It’s 1938, in a middle-class Brooklyn Jewish household. After seeing pictures of the barbarity abroad, Sylvia suddenly becomes paralyzed from the waist down; she can no longer walk. Her tightly-wound husband, Phillip, consults the local doctor; long-held secrets are gradually revealed and a marriage comes tumbling down.
This may be Miller’s most autobiographical play. Sylvia is a head-turning beauty who’s hyper-sensitive to the ills of the world. The highly assimilated Jewish doctor considers himself a socialist. Anti-Semitism courses through the work; some of it comes from within. The paralysis is a symptom of deeper problems in the marriage, and in the Jewish community, a stand-in for any persecuted people.
Miller has always been the conscience of the country. He has, at times, been accused of excessive moralizing, and that proves true here. Some of the characters are well drawn, but the psychiatric underpinnings are ill-defined. Some of the symbolism is bluntly explained, but some character motivations remain underdeveloped. This isn’t as nuanced a play as Miller’s masterworks. But his message is clear: moral or political paralysis can have far-reaching, world-changing consequences.
The North Coast Repertory Theatre production is excellent, from the mournful live cello interludes to the beautiful, evocative set; from the fine-tuned direction to the first-rate performances. Even minor Miller is worth considering; few playwrights can as effectively hit home and heart.
Fear also reigns at New Village Arts, in a truly harrowing production of Frederick Knott’s 1966 chiller, “Wait Until Dark.” Accent on the ‘dark.’ When three thugs terrorize the home of a blind woman, she rises to the challenge, using ingenuity and pitch blackness to trip them up and end the nightmare, which focuses on a doll filled with high-quality heroin. The stakes are high, the sound is ominous, the direction is taut, and the pitch-perfect performances make it all believable, however unlikely some of the plot twists.
Anxiety and dread can raise you up or bring you down. What’s your inclination?
“Wait Until Dark” runs through October 27, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
“Broken Glass” continues through November 10, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
©2013 PAT LAUNER