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Sher shines in intriguing quest for identity

What's On - Cape Town

Broken Glass

Director: Janice Honeyman

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Performers: Antony Sher, Susan Danford, Stephen Jennings, Claire Berlein, Anthea Thompson and Patrick Lyster

Venue: The Fugard Theatre

Until: April 16

Rating: ****

Broken Glass starts in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1938 with Phillip Gellburg (Sher) – not Goldberg as he is at constant pains to point out – visiting Dr Hyman (Jennings) for help with his wife, Sylvia (Danford).

It turns out she has lost the ability to walk for no discernible reason. Hyman believes it could be a “hysterical paralysis” triggered by her response to the events happening in Germany: the ransacking of Jewish homes and businesses by the emerging Nazi movement that was dubbed Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass).

The good doctor takes an interest in Sylvia’s case – at times, too close an interest for Phillip’s liking. As her paralysis persists and the doctor employs his self-admitted underdeveloped understanding of psychology, details of Phillip and Sylvia’s marriage that are potential contributors to her condition emerges.

Broken Glass is not always easy to watch, as it deals with weighty themes of identity, sexuality, politics, fidelity and duty in subtle ways. It asks heavy questions and provides only light resolutions, allowing the audience members to fill in the answers for themselves. It’s also quite long, so make sure you get a comfortable seat.

Industrious theatregoers will find much to sustain them. Sher is magnetic in the lead role. He is straining and desperate and noble and pathetic, shameless in his quest for respectability and acceptance. He amplifies every emotional paroxysm to unignorable, sometimes embarrassing volume.

He is well matched by Danford, who imbues Sylvia with alternating layers of strength and vulnerability. Jennings is good, too, as the imperious Dr Hyman, with Berlein, Thompson and Lyster lending strong support. The New York Jewish accents slip at times, but not to the point of detraction.

The characters’ problems are framed against politics and world issues. This leads to one being intrigued, rather than moved by events. The play offers more cerebral than emotional stimulation.

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