Published: 29 September, 2011
by JOHN COURTNEY O’CONNOR
“A Jew has to be a Democrat?” asks Arthur Miller’s protagonist, ironically, in the author’s examination of a man who cannot come to terms with his own Jewish identity.
Set in Brooklyn in 1938, Phillip Gellburg (Antony Sher) works for a WASP real estate firm.
His boss, Stanton Case (nicely played by Brian Protheroe) – donning his yachting gear – looks down (literally) at his employee and tells him patronisingly how much confidence he has in “your people”.
This is until a land deal goes “down the Swannee” and Gellburg’s insider credibility is in question.
Sylvia Gellburg (Tara Fitzgerald) has lost the use of her legs, although there is nothing physically wrong with her – the condition is diagnosed as “hysterical paralysis” possibly triggered by news of the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany, much to the chagrin and complete bafflement of her husband, Gellburg.
He employs the services of Harry Hyman (Stanley Townsend), a charismatic doctor and socialist who is also Jewish but married to a ‘shiksa’ and who claims that being a Jew does not exclude one from horse riding or fishing, and that there are even Chinese Jews.
“What do they look like?” asks Gellburg. “Chinese” is the reply.
After further consultation, Dr Hyman concludes that the problem may be with Gellburg himself, who has not made love to his desirable wife for many years, perhaps due to his sense of inadequacy.
Gellburg develops hostility towards the relationship between Hyman and Sylvia and dispenses with the doctor’s services.
The one-time blacklisted Miller attracted adverse publicity in the USA with his marriage to Marilyn Monroe (“A ticket to Hollywood”) and his omission of any reference to his son, who had Down’s syndrome, in his memoir, Timebends.
Not coming to terms with one’s own demons seems to be a recurring theme in this piece.
An all-round excellent cast includes outstanding performances from Sher and the ubiquitous Townsend.
The presence of cellist Laura Moody’s silhouette creates a tense and haunting atmosphere.
The play, written in the 1990s, has been dismissed as “melodrama” in previous productions, but Iqbal Khan’s Tricycle production is extraordinary and gives the West End a large bone with plenty of meat to chew.
UNTIL DECEMBER 10
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