On its surface, David Goldstein’s “Skiing on Broken Glass” seems like a salacious story ripped from the headlines. It involves an established novelist and the homeless young male prostitute he brings back to his million-dollar apartment.
But at its heart, “Broken Glass” is a conventional and unlikely love story. As the action drifts through the months and years in this one-act at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, we come to learn what grieving writer Mark (Michael Booth) sees in Todd (David Darrow), the volatile fellow he eventually takes in. The script makes points about the valuing and devaluing of human beings.
If there are sparks in “Broken Glass,” they are ones not of ravenous desire but of doleful longing, as one character seeks a home and another engages in mournful sublimation.
The play, which is directed with primness and charm by Joe Dowling, has a frail dramatic structure. It moves chronologically as scenes are demarcated by surtitles telling us that it’s “the next morning” or “two weeks later.” But it makes up for its unsurprising plot with style and with excellent acting.
The action takes place on a smart set elegantly designed by Michael Hoover. The milieu also is evoked aurally by Montana Johnson, who uses music to delineate the characters (pop for Todd, classical for Mark). Ryan Connealy created the meticulous lighting.
Darrow, a newcomer to the Guthrie, invests Todd with a feral power. His character is mercenary and streetwise even if he somewhat incongruously is afraid of rain. Darrow’s edgy performance gives the show its life force.
Booth’s Mark is staid and avuncular. His writer is a man whose changes happen gradually. Not much seems to take place with his Mark minute to minute, but over the course of the evening, he moves the character from grief to acceptance with artful subtlety.
“Broken Glass” also has two smaller parts: Mark’s schoolmate Edith (Michelle O’Neill), who now lives in London, and her British fiancé, Thomas (Bill McCallum). These roles are underwritten but inject needed juice into the play. McCallum is funny as the cruelly exploitive Thomas, a good match for O’Neill’s harshly truth-telling Edith.
In the end, “Broken Glass” feels like an artist’s study, with only parts of the promising sketch colored in.