Tuesday, June 23, 2009

23 June Play--> Arthur Miller's "After the Fall"


This play was one hot mess, and felt like it's how Miller got over his sense of guilt of possibly contributing to Marilyn Monroe's death. I wonder if it would have come off well as a film or a novel on some level, but as live theatre I just don't see it really working. The play is episodic, and takes place in the mind of the Miller figure Quentin, with characters from his life walking in and out of view. Some of the characters were clearly stage representations of people I'm aware of in Miller's own life, and others were not. It was not quite as scathing of Elia Kazan (whose dopelganger Mickey appears for only one scene, and then briefly as a recurring memory later) as I had anticipated, which may have been one of the reasons he accepted directing the thing. On the whole, however, it seemed to paint Quentin/Miller as this "upstanding" moral figure, who had been a victim his whole life simply by trying to do right by women who never seem to get enough of his love. His character is essentially struggling to accept and offer love again, by trying to work through these past incidents (there's also the minor sub-plot about naming names that would probably have made for a much more compeling topic, but I guess he already wrote that play, so oh well). It's hard to not be put off by Miller after reading this-->Quentin does not read as a sympathetic character, and is painted as an earnest man who never seems to showcase any character flaw except for his incessant talking and perhaps caring too much. And his quest for innocence for himself and for his relationships throughout the play just comes off as...boring? I suppose the problem is that there seems to be little sense of humility in the character, and the audience never really sees him do anything rash or, dare I say it, HUMAN, so there's no investment in watching to see if he redeems himself since he never seems to do anything wrong in the first place. He neglects his first wife because of his work, and his second wife Maggie--based on Monroe--is too destructive to accept the love he tries to offer her. But that affection seems disingenuous, undermined by the impression the audience gets that Quentin believes Maggie is just what he keeps telling her she isn't: a slut, dumb, used, etc. The fact is, Quentin seems to grapple with only the problems he manifests in his own mind by over thinking every relationship/incident in his life, and not the black-and-white situations staring him in the face that he had a hand in on some level. But maybe that's the point--to show the character completely devoid of this simple self-awareness. It may be a nuance that can only come out of seeing a performance. But I wouldn't put all my eggs in that basket.

Some positive things: The ripple effect Miller achieved by having characters enter and say lines from scenes previously staged for the audience to reinforce the effect/hold Quentin's past had on him was really interesting, and took the play deeper in terms of a psychological journey into this character's mind, and gave a sense of frenzy that probably helps the pacing at certain points.

All in all, this play could have used a dramaturge when it was first being written. Sadly, back in 1964, that job title didn't really exist. It's a shame, too--it's Miller, so the writing isn't bad, necessarily. The play's just a bit overfull, and was exhausting to read, and I suspect would be exhausting to sit through. I know I said A View from the Bridge was depressing, but it was still a very good play. This, in comparison, feels preachy, self-indulgent and self-serving, and just...unimportant. The best two lines in my opinion are the final two pieces of dialogue between Quentin and potential lover Holga. That says something all on its own.

Monologues: 1 for Holga, a German woman in her late thirties, early forties, but not for me. Alas--it might have made the Fall worth it.

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