David Bishins, Gina Nagy Burns, Harris Yulin, Janet Zarish
The Glass House is a carefully and methodically constructed bit of theater that highlights its subjects, the architect Miles van der Rohe and his Farnsworth House. It is a new play by June Finfer that explores the attraction of architect and architecture to patron and collaborator.
Janet Zarish plays Dr. Farnsworth, a professional woman who has acquired some beautiful land outside of Chicago and wants to build an architectural work of art as a weekend house. Ms. Zarish brings a cool professionalism to the role of Dr. Farnsworth that warms and melts as the doctor is drawn into the orbit of architect Miles van der Rohe.
Harris Yulin does a wonderfully understated job with the role of the famous architect Miles van der Rohe. He is driven by a reserved passion for line and form in architecture, which he creates, and in women, which he enjoys. The Glass House then, is a love story between Miles van der Rohe and Doctor Farnsworth that yields both an intimate relationship and a collaboration for arts sake. The physical manifestation of their relationship is the Farnsworth House, a perfectly constructed glass house in Plano, Illinois.
And yet this love story is as sparse and transparent as the Farnsworth House itself, a glass-walled work of art that invites the landscape in while keeping it just out of reach.
The “other woman” of the physical relationship is played by Gina Nagy Burns in a lightly sketched role that Ms. Burns fills out. The other woman of the artistic collaboration is Philip Johnson, played as jealous villain by David Bishins. Mr. Bishins is appropriately smarmy, but the role as written is a bit jarring for anyone who only knows of Philip Johnson as a very good architect.
The transitions between scenes are carried out by three men, variously dressed as draftsmen, construction workers, or hotel staff. They stiffly move the overly detailed set pieces in a linear choreography that mimic the details of blueprints, layered with more and more detail. These repetitive motions mimic the creation and design of the detailed house.
The van der Rohe method, detailed, studied and slow in both art and love, is contrasted against Philip Johnsons rush towards reward and recognition.
The payoff of The Glass House is wonderful. Rarely in theatre does a play accurately represent the physical manifestation of a great love affair, much less often one that you can actually visit. The Glass House makes you think there is probably an interesting story buried inside the walls of most famous buildings. The writer, Ms. Finfer, does a great job in bringing it out, and the director, Evan Bergman, gives the piece a light touch that allows the play to slowly reveal it to the audience.