Arthur Miller is making a comeback … like he was ever gone??
ALL MY SONS returns to Broadway along with two other strong revivals presented in independent theater: Hunger Theatre – known for its excellent acting – brings THE CRUCIBLE – the definitive allegory of witch-hunts and blacklists in a time when -well- we are all trumped by the news; and one week later, Regeneration Theatre found an Arthur Miller NEVER presented in NYC. THE ARCHBISHOP’S CEILING tells of three friends meeting in a mysterious country and unable to tell whether they are still friends or foes. Maybe the play is rare but the themes are still far-too pungent.
Can it be as simple as that? Is Miller hear becasue we see the future in his past writings? Maybe there’s more. We asked the artistic directors to comment on their choice and the perennial nature of Miller.
Barnaby Edwards (Director, THE ARCHBISHOP’S CEILING, and founder, REGENERATION THEATRE)
Miller’s great themes, that resonate throughout his career, given his upbringing and life experience will always, to my mind, be timely. We must never forget that all the things we are experiencing in the world today – persecution and belittling of writers speaking the truth, prejudices against people who speak, or look, or think a little differently being taken to extreme levels, decreased focus on the importance of art and what it can mean to our world view – have all happened before, and people need to be unafraid to speak up and to resist.
While “The Glass Menagerie”, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “Death of a Salesman” may seem like revered classics today that are constantly being revived, it is important to realize how shocking they were in the post-war America in which they were first produced. Here were writers who talked about sex, who didn’t follow the traditional theatrical structures that were followed by O’Neill (until his last 2 masterpieces), Hellman, and many others. Along with visionary directors such as Kazan, and changing gin acting style, such as the teaching of The Group, theatre was transformed during this period, enabling and influencing the work of 1950s and 60s playwrights like Inge, Albee, and Lanford Wilson, all the way up to Tony Kushner, and Matthew Lopez today. The debt we owe them is extraordinary, even more so since they also taught us to never stop experimenting, even in the face of disappointment and failure which both experiences after their initial blazes of glory in the first decade of their appearances on the Broadway scene.
Allison Wick (Director, THE CRUCIBLE, and co-founder, HUNGER THEATRE)
Miller’s plays are wonderful because they deal both with social pressures of society and with the way human psychology develops under those pressures. Much of his work, in one way or another, examines American capitalism, and the Crucible is a particularly compelling example of this. Most people know that the play is an allegory for the anti-communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era, but Miller roots the plot in an incident much further back in American history. This served to veil somewhat the criticism of McCarthy, but the comparison between the two events serves another purpose.
[THE CRUCIBLE] deals in a very complex way with many of the political issues that drove and were intertwined with the Salem witch trials, for example: women’s oppression, slavery, property, sex, religious morality, and class. These are issues that were also related, in one way or another, to the witch hunts of the 1950s, not to mention our current situation. By setting the events of the play in 1692, what Miller ends up highlighting, whether intentionally or not, is that all these issues go back to the very origins of the society that we currently live in; that they are inseparable from the foundations this country was built on.
Virtually every time I’ve told someone that I’m directing this play, they tell me that they think it is especially relevant in our current political climate, and it makes a lot of sense to me that the subject matter feels so immediate. Being in rehearsals for a play in which people are dragged out of their homes, torn away from their families and left to rot in jail, I can’t help but think about the persecution and vilification of immigrants in this country, children being ripped away from their parents, people being locked up in detention centers. I also can’t help but think of the internment camps where FDR rounded up Japanese Americans during World War II. For me, the fact that we see these parallels now indicates that these are not anomalous events in our history. Rather they are part of a consistent thru-line, the logical outcome of the structures that this country was built on. For me this play is a reminder that we will have to reckon with all these forms of oppression until we finally pull them up by their historical roots.
On some level I think that all artists create in order to express something about the inner needs and desires of humankind, and how those needs come into conflict with the outside world. Playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller are considered masters because they did that so powerfully, because they created deeply affecting works of art. For me as an artist, it’s important to tackle these playwrights for the same reason that I feel compelled to create theater in the first place: to say something meaningful about the human experience. It’s actually more than just important to produce their works. It is a privilege and gift. Just to say these words out loud on a stage, to feel their power in the room, is a remarkable experience.
Luke Wehner (co-founder, HUNGER THEATRE)
Arthur Miller wrote passionately about the human spirit – about how life has a way of conditioning people into a kind of dishonesty, kind of cruelness, a kind of deadness. So many of his characters are people who find themselves realizing that much of what they’ve known has been illusion – waking up, really. They find themselves being called to seek out and defend a larger truth, often by admitting things that are painful to admit. Those are pretty universal things to be writing about.
I think people have to decide for themselves what stories they think are important to tell. For me, I think Miller’s plays really, each in their own way, express things we keep needing to hear and think about.
Members of the cast of THE CRUCIBLE
Emily Suuberg: Arthur Miller’s works will always be timely because they so artfully depict the timeless and universal theme of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of consequence, of judgment, of failure, of betrayal.
Samantha Wendorf: I absolutely believe Arthur Miller is still timely, because like all truly great writing, the themes he tackles, albeit controversial, are universal, and have been repeated, in one way or another, countless times throughout history. As an actress in 2019, when I reread the The Crucible in preparation for our production, what kept gnawing at me was the frightening connection between Miller’s Salem witch trials, and our current immigration crisis. Personally, I think it so important for an actor to tackle the classics and the American masters like Miller. These writers gave us the gift of these stories and these texts that are rich with nuance and specificity, and as an actor to be given the task of unraveling and dissecting those words, well, it’s truly an honor.
Brian Vestal: Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible at the height of the McCarthyism-communism frenzy, when public figures were accused of misconduct, and based solely on hearsay, were swiftly convicted in the court of public opinion. Sound familiar? The classics are timeless because even though the headlines change, human nature remains the same. Authors like Miller wrote some of the most revered plays and roles in the American theatre cannon, and like a lot of actors I’m sure, they were integral to my education. Who didn’t have to write a paper on The Glass Menagerie? The greatest generation of the 20th century was such a formative context for Williams and Miller to develop beautiful dramas of hard realities, with passionate and flawed characters who struggle to survive, to love and accept their families, and to break free. Their plays remain a worthy challenge because they speak to the very heart of what it means to be a regular person just striving for a better life.
Members of the cast of THE ARCHBISHOP’S CEILING
Kristen Gehling: Miller. God. How do you begin to unpack his genius? He managed to capture humanity on his pages. He zeroed in on what drives us as a species – our fears, our sense of purpose. He exposed his characters down to their veins. He shined a glaring light on their journeys to discovery and destruction so we could be witness to our own challenges and shortcomings. He is timeless because he showed us that a good life, leaving your mark, and preserving your name are worth fighting for.
Michael Meth: “The Crucible,” “All My Sons,” “Death of a Salesman,” “The Archbishop’s Ceiling.” Tribal Paranoia. Religious Extremism. Human Morality, Avarice and Greed. Family Betrayals. Mortality at the hands of an unfeeling and rigged system. Cable News, Reality TV, Facebook, Trump. Yeah, not timely at all.
It’s important to remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants.