by Larry Bridwell
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
August 19, 2004
HIS REVIEW: 'AFTER THE FALL' IS FICTIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY
NEW YORK -- With five major plays, "Death of a Salesman," "The Crucible," "A View from the Bridge," "All My Sons," and "The Price," Arthur Miller is America's greatest living playwright. In addition to his literary work, Miller is also famous for being the last husband of Marilyn Monroe.
The glamorous marriage between the archetypal sex goddess and a prominent intellectual who wrote political plays is reflected in "After the Fall," now on Broadway.
The fictionally disguised Marilyn Monroe, Maggie, is portrayed by the red-headed Carlo Gugino, who delivers the strongest performance in the play, brilliantly depicting the psychological insecurity as well as the sizzling sexuality of her character. The rest of the cast performs competently but no other actor stands out--perhaps the result of the blandness of their characters.
Fictional characters are not exact representations; biographers frequently argue that an autobiography cannot be truly objective because it reflects a self-interested perspective of the author. But Miller acknowledges that his written work draws upon his life experiences.
As an American Jew born in 1915, Miller was an adult as the Holocaust unfolded. During his years in New York City before and after World War II, several of his friends were actively involved with the Communist Party. Quentin (Peter Krause), the protagonist of the play, is a lawyer who risks his career to defend a friend who was inspired by the ideals of communism and then subpoenaed by a congressional committee.
Miller took up the issue of political witch-hunting in "The Crucible," a drama about the Salem witch trials which became a powerful literary attack on McCarthyism. Miller's intellectual rigor is reflected during a scene where a writer wanting to portray the achievements of the Soviet Union admits that he omitted negative facts about Stalinist Russia. Miller has emphasized the importance of writers speaking the truth even it conflicts with political beliefs, and served as President of PEN, an international writers organization that fights censorship.
One of the political ironies of these times is that Ronald Reagan, (according to Edmund Morris, his biographer, in an obituary for The New Yorker), applied to become a member of the Communist Party during his leftist Hollywood days before World War II, but the local party officials did not think he was good enough material, and suggested that he support their causes from outside the party. "After the Fall" portrays human beings with youthful idealism similar to Ronald Reagan's being persecuted in middle age; the future President by luck or chance escaped criticism.
His play has another interesting political dimension - the role of women during the 1950's and 1960's. At that time, men dealt with the politics of the world, while women were primarily concerned with relationships. This is emphasized by Quentin's three lovers, literary metaphors for Miller's wives.
Quentin's first wife (Jessica Hecht) is serious and preparing to become a Freudian analyst. She complains that his behavior as a husband is inappropriate. Quentin becomes frustrated when he feels his sincere efforts to relate to his wife are spurned, and their marital problems are exacerbated by the lack of loving sex. Quentin then meets a receptionist from his law office; she is in the early stages of becoming a successful singer, famous for her sexy performances. Quentin marries her and becomes entrapped by her diva-like demands.
The contrast between the cold, serious first wife, and the hot, demanding second wife (Carla Gugino) is enhanced by the mystery of a third woman (Vivienne Benesch) from Austria, with whom Quentin visits a Holocaust site near Vienna.
She emphasizes her independence and apparently is the female antidote to the psychological illnesses of the first two women. Strangely, "After the Fall" devotes considerable time to the two neurotic wives and very little to the third love; in fact, there is too much emphasis on the problems of the Marilyn Monroe character. Miller's negative portrayal can be contrasted with the attitude of her other famous husband, the legendary baseball player, Joe DiMaggio, who daily sent flowers to her grave.
From a 21st Century feminist perspective, the play can be viewed as misogynist, because all the women - with one exception - are portrayed as neurotic, while the well-meaning Quentin (aka Arthur Miller) is trying to do his best.
Only after long suffering does he finds a good woman. But men are not saints victimized by neurotic females; a strong case can be made that women are often very tolerant of insensitive, chauvinistic men. For the biographical record, Arthur Miller had a forty-year marriage to Inge Morath, who recently died, and they had a daughter, who became a successful actor, director and writer.
"After the Fall" is a flawed play, but offers fascinating insights into the consciousness of one of America's greatest political writers.
Larry Bridwell welcomes your comments. Please send them to mailto:lbridwell(at)pace.edu.