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|A CurtainUp Review
he Man In The Glass Booth
I didn't see either the 1968 production of Robert Shaw's Man in the Glass Booth or the movie from which Shaw disassociated himself. Therefore I can't tell you how the revival by the Jean Cocteau Repertory compares with the Broadway or London production starring Donald Pleasance and directed by Harold Pinter. Since the mass crime of the century, the Holocaust, can never really be shelved as being too dated, the play's examination of the victims and victimizers of that crime is as timely, if not as current, today as then.
Like the star-studded film, Judgment at Nuerenberg, the play is a mystery built around a surprise ending trial. Arthur Goldman (Harris Berlinksy), a wealthy American real estate tycoon who says he's a German Jew is captured by Israeli agents and tried as a Nazi who killed countless Jews. The question of whether he is a victim of the holocaust or a victimizer drives the mystery. The larger underlying mystery of Goldman's identity relates to what Hanna Arendt made famous as "the banality of evil." If Arthur Goldman is a Jewish survivor, did his and other Jews' "sheeplike" submission contribute to their victimhood? If he is not Goldman but a Nazi officer named Dorfin, what in the victimizer resides as a sleeping demon in all of us. In short, the enigma is not who Goldman is but whether we are hearing a man at a war crimes trial admitting his monstrosity rather than claiming he " was taking orders" -- or seeing a Jew driven into a mad disguise to deliver a universal statement about the extent to which "we are all German and all Jewish."
Having never bought Ms. Arendt's theory, I can't say I was persuaded by the philosophical lesson used as a subtext for the psychological drama. And, while Harris Berlinsky, clearly makes the most of this tour de force role, neither he or the able supporting cast had me gripping he edge of my seat. After a while you can anticipate the constant shifts from real estate tycoon with one eye on the next deal and the other on the demons locked into a mysterious hellishly red vault. The gun that smokes in act one does indeed go off in act two, though with words rather than real bullets. And that's where the play's problem, at least as presented here, kicks in -- too many words and not a surprising enough bang when that metaphoric gun goes off.
Christopher Black is excellent as Goldman's meek assistant, but the byplay between him and his boss is obvious almost from the start. Able support is also provided by Elise Stone as an Israeli agent, Charles Parnell as the presiding judge and Marilyn Bernard as the ultimate witness of the trial and the rest of the resident company playing ten other roles. Robert Kilingelhoffer's sets are an appropriate mix of the bland and the sinister.