Theatre: Terror in New York City

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

ON 9 NOVEMBER 1938, mobs attacked Jewish homes and businesses throughout Germany. The broken glass that litterred the streets led the event to be christened Kristallnacht. On the other side of the world, in Brooklyn, Sylvia Gellburg suddenly loses the ability to walk. Her husband, Philip, turns to a doctor to cure this psychosomatic affliction.

Harry Hyman (Richard Durden) is a doctor with an unconventional approach to treatment. His bedside manner involves hand-holding rather than pulse- taking. Durden makes him gruff and world-weary, with a delivery reminiscent of Clint Eastwood.

As he worries about his wife, Philip (Paul McCleary) - who like so many of Arthur Miller's central characters, suffers from a blind devotion to his employer - struggles to keep the lid pressed down firmly on any feelings he might have about being Jewish. His life is the company, and what is happening in Germany is of little interest to him.

Meanwhile, Sylvia (Fiona Mollinson) remains confined to a wheelchair, and cannot understand why no one else is concerned about what the Nazis are doing. She also starts to fall in love with the doctor. The past casts its shadow over the present, and there are the usual Millerian skeletons rattling in the cupboard, waiting to make their appearance.

The three main characters' search for the cause of Sylvia's paralysis makes the play something of a "what-done-it". Unfortunately, it's not the most sophisticated of thrillers and in place of a final twist has a cheesy and over-reiterated homily about how we must all learn to live with what we are and make the best of the hand we are dealt.

The more adventurous suggestion of some sort of paranormal link between Sylvia and the Jews suffering persecution in Germany fades to make way for the more traditional Miller theme, that our nearest and dearest cause us most of the pain in our lives.

Rupert Goold's production makes the best of the wordy, low-plot script. Designer Tim Shortall's set struggles desperately to lend more depth to Miller's mouthpieces and the cast - particularly McCleary - work hard to make the characters more empathetic than the playwright allows.

To 20 Nov, 01722 320333