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Shards of Ideas

With Broken Glass, Arthur Miller reaches for more than he can hold

By trying to reach too far, Miller winds up with little in his grasp. If he had stuck to Sylvia's plight, he could have created a visionary fusion of body and mind at a pivotal juncture in history. He could also have homed in on whether the persecution Phillip doesn't want to admit he suffers from is real or a complex, especially since some of the most artful moments in the play are between him and his boss, who may or may not be prejudiced.

But Miller doesn't get beyond the obvious. For most of the play, "the Jewish question" isn't discussed at all, and when it finally is, Miller's insights are trite. Sylvia recounts a dream that's supposed to speak volumes but turns out to be straight out of Freud 101; the climax wants to soar but flounders in melodrama. At one point, one character tells another to look in the mirror (hence part of the reason for the title); I'd say the same to Miller. I didn't see the 1994 New York premiere that received some acclaim, but I'd wager that much of its strength derived from a cast that included Ron Silver as Dr. Hyman, Amy Irving as Sylvia and Ron Rifkin as Phillip.

John Arp, as Phillip in Stages' production, is the only cast member to get at the essence of his character, which he does so memorably that his is one of the performances of the season. Rigid, blunt and smacking his lips in a tic, pallid and awkward even when smiling, Arp's Phillip is no easy man to talk to, even though he seems perfectly reasonable.

As Sylvia, Christianne Mays is too much of a blank slate; this Alley veteran knows what to emphasize, but her machinations don't amount to distinctive emotional development. Too young for the role and making a mishmash of his Yiddish accent, Thomas Baird as Dr. Hyman isn't the only one miscast; let's just leave it that he and the supporting players (excepting Stuart Purdy, excellent as Phillip's indeterminate boss) are woefully out of their element.

Also out of sync are the costumes. Some reinforce the skillfully impressionistic set, which, from intricate window to skewed floor, is colored black or white. But others are unaccountably "colorful."

For any Arthur Miller play to have a chance to succeed, the direction must be imperative and inevitable. Beth Sanford's is reverential and tentative. She stresses everything equally. But then again, so does Miller.

Broken Glass plays through April 14 at Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, 52-

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