Shattered lives

Arthur Miller’s latest play Broken Glass is about more than Nazi vandalism, as actor Henry Goodman explains to Andrew Bumet.

if you were a Jew in Berlin in 1938, you knew all about persecution. Your parents’ generation had fled the Russian pogroms of the l890s. some to New York, others to London. Your own folks had found sanctuary in central Europe, but now things were looking grim again. Then came Kristallnacht the night of crystals when marauding Nazi thugs. cheered on by ‘respectable’ men and women, viciously assaulted Jewish immigrants, looting shops and burning synagogues. The damage in broken glass alone ran to millions of marks. The Holocaust was kicking in.

if you were a Jew in New York in 1938, all this was bad news, but how much did it have to do with you? This is one of the questions at the centre of Arthur Miller’s new play, Broken Glass, which arrives in Glasgow this fortnight.

The play begins with the ‘hysterical paralysis’ of Sylvia Gellburg, who’s read about Kristallnacht from the remote safety of Brooklyn. Her illness is Miller’s route into a complex and gripping study of cultural identity. explored through the breakdown of a marriage.

Henry Goodman plays Sylvia’s husband Phillip, a man who adores his wife, but is literally impotent to express his love. ‘These two people are destroying

A life in splinters: Henry Goodman as Phillip Gellburg

each other without knowing it.’ he explains. ‘Everyone else thinks they’re successful, happy people. Twenty-five years down the line they go to the doctor because she falls on the floor and they find that their lives are absolutely in a mess.

‘As in all Miller’s plays, it’s a sort of link between the personal and the political; the social and the individual. What inspired him to put it in this way was the events in Rwanda and Bosnia. He’s saying that it’s very difficult for us to say. “the rest of the world stinks and there’s nothing i can do about it,” and still be completely wholesome in our dealings with each other.‘

in a recent interview. Miller remarked, ‘If there weren’t any anti-Semites, I wouldn’t think of myself as Jewish.’ Like him, Gellburg is a somewhat reluctant Jew, and this proves to be at the core of his


’One of the things that immigrants tried to do in those days was become American.’ says Goodman, ‘to deny their roots and become part of the host population. And I think Miller's saying that if you cut yourselfoff from one part of what you are, you pay a price in the other parts. in his autobiography, 'limebenrls, Jewishness is a constantly-mined theme of his identity, and although he found religious orthodoxy a medievalism, there’s something to do with belonging and identity which he is quite proud of. it seems to me although this therne’s been in his

‘lt’s very difficult for us to say, “the rest of the world stinks and there’s nothing I can do about it,” and still be completely wholesome in our dealings with each other.’

work fora long time he’s never dealt with it as head- on before.’

Probably the most influential American playwright of the century. Miller is still best known for his plays of the 40s and 50s, especially The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. More recent work has failed to equal their level of dramatic passion, but for many London audiences and critics. Broken Glass has marked a return to form indeed it won the 1995 Olivier Award for Best Play.

‘After performing this play for seven months to packed houses. 1 can say unequivocally that it’s irrelevant whether you know anything about Jewishness or Kristailnacht.’ says Goodman. ‘What matters is that people get sucked in to the psychiatric thriller, the unpeeling onion. and they cry and laugh along the way, because there is a lot of humour in the play. i have been genuinely quite surprised at the intensity ofeffect that it has on audiences.’

So at 78. the grand old man of American theatre still has something to say. ‘lt’s like The 'l'empesr.’ says Goodman. ‘lt’s an older man’s play, looking back on life and trying to learn lessons from it.’ Broken Glass. Theatre Royal. Glasgow, Tue 30 May—Sat 3 June.


Light work

Contemporary Dance in the 60s and is now easily the most progressive dancemaker of that generation. Like Merce Cunningham, the granddaddy of " modern dance, she works with pure dance, no themes. But unlike Cunningham, whose dancers tend to

Siobhan Davies is not one to stick her dance on the stage with any old music and design. The cream of post-modem composers - Gavin Dryers, Steve Reich, Gerald Barry and Michael Iyuan - have all been the sound to her steps. Last year, when her company of dancers took to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre stage with The Glass Glow In, it was the Olivier Award-winning Peter Mumford’s visionary lighting design as much as Davies’s silky-smooth movement that caeglrt the pebllc’s eye.

Davies, an English choreographer of no mean prestige herself, was one of the first pupils at London School of

be upright, classical, almost stilted, the Davies dance language is relaxed and fluid - a hybrid of the exuberant athleticism of 703 contemporary dance and the easy, released drop of 908 new dance. It’s a style that suits the experienced, talented dancers who return from their separate careers to work with her each year, and it’s one that adds layers of expression to an otherwise cool abstraction.

Her latest work, Wild Translations, which shares a double bill with The Class Blew In at the Festival Theatre this month, is set to the music of yet another hotshot minimalist - South African composer Kevin Volans - and

Stretched to the limit: Gill Clarita in Wild

will be topped with what looks to be a stunning invention in lighting and set design. Artist David Doriand and lighting man Peter Mumford have created a giant light-shedding propeller which will hang albatross- like from the ceiling throughout the action. ‘As the dance progresses,’ says Davies, ‘the propeller gradually turns, throwing different parts of the stage into light and shadow as it goes. Like Volans’s score, which combines music for strings with pro-recorded sounds from African village life, it gives a sense of heat, and it puts the dancers in a heightened state of awareness because there Is light constantly shifting around the stage.’ (Ellie Carr)

Wild Translations/The Glass law in, Siobhan Davies Dance Company, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 19

May, 7.30pm.


“The List 19 May-l Jun 1995