Arthur Miller's searing 1995 drama ostensibly deals with the theme of Jewish assimilation and the price of ignoring evil in the rest of the world. In the end, though, the issue is a metaphor for the moral rot fragmenting a loveless marriage. In 1938, American Jewish housewife Sylvia (Susan Angelo) reads in the papers of the atrocities taking place in Germany and develops what appears to be a hysterical, psychosomatic paralysis. Sylvia's husband, uptight mortgage broker Phillip (Michael Bofshever), is justifiably alarmed, but as he seeks help from kindly Dr. Hyman (Stephen Burleigh), the real problems underlying his wife's condition begin to emerge. For his part, Phillip is contemptuous of his own Jewish heritage and is so self-hating he pretends to be Finnish, rather than Polish, even as he's forced to suck up the subtle anti-Semitism at his workplace. In director Elina de Santos' beautifully empathetic staging, the pacing is unhurried, but the emotions rise in tension and pitch until, finally, they reach Shakespearean heights of tragedy. There's so much simmering below the surface here especially the notion of how, under certain circumstances, self-loathing and guilt can actually be physically manifested. The acting work crackles with subtext and organic emotion. At first the prickly, unforgiving Phillip seems monstrously dismissive but in Bofshever's increasingly subtle, pragmatic turn, we gradually start to realize the insecurities underlying his self-loathing. The show's engrossing moral center, however, is Angelo's wonderfully vulnerable performance as Sylvia, who is played as part giggling ingénue and part world-weary social activist trapped in a life that, for the most part, she cannot control. Pico Playhouse, 10580 Pico Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru April 17. (323) 821-2449.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Feb. 25. Continues through April 18, 2011