Theatre Royal, Dumfries, Wed 30 May, then touring
Whenever someone expresses a view that dissents from the mainstream it makes others feel uncomfortable, and they may feel the need to find a label for them. In his own time, Arthur Miller endured a good deal of abuse from various sources for his views, from persecution in the McCarthyite witch hunts, to the sniping and dismissals he received from the right wing press for his work in such organisations as Amnesty International in his latter years. So it’s no surprise that in this 1994 piece he examines the ease with which a woman, who has become obsessed with radio reports of the holocaust, can be dismissed as a neurotic.
But it’s more complex than this, since she is clearly suffering from a nervous disorder. It’s New York in 1938, and as her fellow Americans, including Jewish ones, dismiss the Nazi persecutions as a little local difficulty in a country far away, Sylvia (Fletcher Mathers), a middle aged, middle class Jewish housewife finds that she’s lost the use of her legs. Her cold and humourless husband (Stewart Porter) seeks the help of the affable family doctor (Lewis Howden) who applies psychoanalysis to the problem. But as is so often the case, hysterical repressions are easily applied to those of radical views, while their accusers often prove more troubled than the supposed sufferer.
Michael Emans’ production for Rapture locates Miller’s powerful central metaphor about domestic impotence and wilful ignorance of ideological threats with real vigour, but has to work to overcome the occasional bout of speechiness in the dialogue. Certainly the message - that our impulse in comfortable bourgeois circumstances to find petty distractions from our responsibilities to fellow humans, wherever they are, might lead to destructive psychological consequences - is well conveyed. If the action feels a little trapped within Lyn McAndrew’s rust coloured bedroom set, there are some powerful performances to offset the physical limitations, particularly from Porter’s self-hating Jewish husband and Howden’s egregiously self assured doctor.
Ultimately, this is a timely piece, whose central historical metaphor might speak volumes about world events we choose to ignore today.