by Lucy Komisar
American Reporter Theater Critic
New York, N.Y.
August 22, 2004
HER REVIEW: 'AFTER THE FALL' A RANT AGAINST WOMEN
NEW YORK -- Arthur Miller's flawed 1964 play - on the surface - is about personal and political morality. Under Michael Mayer's one-dimensional direction, it is a rant against women, or at least against his mother and first two wives.
The protagonist, the lawyer Quentin (Peter Krause), is shown suffering in life with his first wife Louise (Jessica Hecht), who is kvetchy, angry, jealous and cuts him no slack. He does however offer a clue to the problem with wife #1. As portrayed by Krause, Quentin exists in a daze, showing little emotion for anyone and little interest in anything but himself. He seems to stand outside most of what is happening.
Quentin to wife: "You have turned your back on me in bed." She indicates that he doesn't pay any attention to her. Quentin: "I'm not very demonstrative." Then there's the problem of her identity: she thinks she has one. Louise: "I'm not your mother; I'm a separate person." She is distraught; he doesn't connect. She is a screamer; our sympathy goes to Quentin. But as an actor, the kudos go to Hecht, whose anger seems to belong to a live individual.
Second wife Maggie (Carla Gugino, who radiates energy and sensuality), the stand-in for Marilyn Monroe, is a ditsy neurotic flake, totally wrapped up in herself (as opposed to Quentin, of course). The shy albeit innocently hot and bubbly Maggie rises from switchboard operator to famous singer and also morphs into an unconscionable prima donna. She becomes self-involved, cloying, vicious, irrational. She drinks and takes barbiturates; there's no indication why. Quentin accuses her of hating all who don't grovel at her feet. And she's another hysterical screamer. A scene where she strips to her underwear is especially dreadful and exploitive. Poor Quentin, again.
It seems he's never known a decent woman. His mother (Candy Buckley), a talky, manipulative lady with a pretentious accent (I could never figure out where that was supposed to come from), assails her doting husband (Dan Ziskie) when his business collapses and leaves them bereft of cash.
Quentin, on the other hand, is good and decent. He heroically puts his own career at risk when he agrees to represent Lou, a law professor who has been called up by a congressional witch-hunting committee. Lou, out of loyalty to the Communist Party, wrote a book that ignored some flaws in Soviet law, and it turns out that his wife, Elsie (Kathleen McNenny), made him write the lies. She, by the away, is cheating on him. Bad woman #4.
Miller acknowledges that Quentin has flaws. One wife says: "You think reading a brief to a woman is talking to her?" You never get the feeling Quentin loved either of them; there's no hint that he ever feels anything.
Finally, in Austria, he meets the wonderful archeologist, Holga (the ethereal Vivienne Benesch), a stand-in for Miller's late third wife, the photographer Inge Morath. Holga is not only sexy while being reasonable, soft-spoken, and undemanding, but she represents political morality, the opposite of everything he's seen in the U.S. She takes him to a concentration camp, but he doesn't want to see it. Here is a woman who is more political and moral than he is! And it gives him a chance to subtly compare the moral behavior of those who supported or protested the McCarthy era with those who supported or fought the Nazis.
The shadow of the concentration camp appears over the ceiling of an airport hall, the famous gray, modernistic Eero Saarinen TWA terminal at Idlewild airport (now Kennedy), where Holga is arriving. It is the set that remains for the entire production and adds not a thing, but reduces the already tarnished sense that this play is about reality.
The language of the characters is often pretentious and tendentious, and the plot wanders all over the lot. Not Miller's best.
Lucy Komisar welcomes your comments. Please send them to mailto:lkomisar(at)echonyc.com.