at the Victory Theatre Center
n Arthur Miller's play, Sylvia and Phillip Gellburg (Diedra Celeste and Robert Picardo), have been long married when Sylvia suddenly loses the use of her legs. Doctors are stymied in their search for a cause of the devastating paralysis, and Phillip is at the end of his rope when he goes to consult Dr. Harry Hyman (Tom Ormeny), who has a reputation for solving difficult cases and for having an eye for the ladies. Sylvia is obsessed by accounts of the persecution of Jews in Europe, causing Hyman, who is attracted to Sylvia, to come to the conclusion that this obsession is causing her sickness. More excavation and a few charged confrontations between the two men uncover several choices for the origins of Sylvia's distress. The play asks: What is cause and what is effect? And who's to blame? Is Phillip's self-hate at the root of his desire to repudiate his Jewish heritage, to be accepted as an equal by his snob-nosed boss (a right-on Christopher Rydman), to encourage his son to join the military against Sylvia's wishes, or to withhold his affection from his needy wife? "It's all right for a Jew to have a Jewish face," Sylvia tells her conflicted husband at one point.
Miller was doubtless facing his own demons at this late stage in his career; he certainly poses cogent questions but gets toppled by a multitude of unresolved answers before a melodramatically contrived heart attack fells Phillip, taking him out of the fray, and conveniently solving Sylvia's problem but not the play's.
Picardo gives a superb performance as the doubting Phillip, especially in the confrontational scenes, finely staged by director Shira Dubrovner. Celeste has enormous charm and sincerity, and a lovable delicacy, though one might wonder if Sylvia and her blunt-spoken sister, Harriet, feistily portrayed by Randi Lynne Weidman, were brought up in the same Brooklyn home. Janet Wood makes a suitably ditsy wife-assistant for Dr. Hyman, though Ormeny, an accomplished and earnest actor, is unfortunately quite miscast in this key role.
Presented by and at the Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. Oct. 6-Nov. 26. (818) 841-5421. thevictorytheatrecenter.org.
Reviewed by Madeleine Shaner