Sir Peter, King Arthur and Ari: An Exchange

Here’s a little bit of a back and forth between me and Peter Marks at The Post regarding all we’ve been learning about The Arthur Miller We Thought We Knew. Today I meet with Mark Bly, senior dramaturg at Arena Stage, to discuss our theaters’ springtime productions of Miller and the discussions we’ll be holding as we put Miller and his plays (and quite possibly his persona) under the microscope.

Peter seems to care about this a lot too, which is a good thing.

Original Message —–
From: Arirothdc@aol.com
To: petermarks…
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 12:57 AM
Subject: On Arthur Miller, for our reconsideration…

Hi Peter:
Something to put on the plate, as we look down the way toward this coming spring and the spate of Miller plays receiving reconsideration, are the revelations in last week’s NY Times summarizing the September Vanity Fair article on how Arthur Miller was father to a son with Down’s Syndrome that he institutionalized, never visited, and refused to acknowledge in public. This whole episode causes one to rethink much of the mythology surrounding Arthur Miller as the great Godhead of impeccable moral stature. Rather than simply the photogenic Conscience of a Generation (or hell, a nation), he emerges more and more to be fatally, psychologically flawed, complex, human, disappointing, and contradictory.

The controversy as to how these revelations might influence our readings of Miller’s work and career will be with us throughout the upcoming season as we prepare for our spring production of Miller’s THE PRICE, a play we’ll all now go back and re-read–as I’ve just just done–seeing how the themes of denial and shameful mistreatment of an addled family member suggest new, highly personal elements about Miller, and about the family in general.

THE PRICE, more than any other Miller work–first produced in 1968 and written just two years after Miller’s son was born and institutionalized–may become a metaphor for Miller’s own abdications as it more globally raises the issue of how we either address or abandon our moral responsibilities, as we may be forced to choose between our family members, ourselves, and our careers. It’s beyond rich, this new opportunity to think about a treasured figure like Miller, his formidable body of work, and these new historical revelations that prompt reflection of our own deeply held ideals and perceptions of who our heroes really are.

Original Message —–
From: petermarks…
To: Arirothdc@aol.com
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 9:57 AM

Hi Ari — I read the v. disturbing Vanity Fair piece — would love to discuss this with you as your production nears….

—– Original Message —–
From: Arirothdc@aol.com
To: petermarks…
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 10:01 AM
Subject: Re: On Arthur Miller, for our reconsideration…

Well, no one’s done more of a lionizing than I have over the years.
I wrote a few different appreciations of Miller after his death and I will share a piece I wrote for the Michigan Quarterly Review back in 1997 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. It’s a superb, thick issue with tons of great pieces (http://www.umich.edu/~mqr/miller.htm) and I recommend it highly.

I think these revelations may, in the end, make Miller’s plays MORE fascinating and suggest deeper awareness of man’s impulse toward denail and shame. But it (probably in a good way) eviscerates the Magnum Photo glow of Miller as the GQ/Jewish Mount Rushmore prototype of moral integrity. Who needs that anyway, right? (Well, I did, it seems, for a while).

Original Message —–
From: petermarks…
To: Arirothdc@aol.com
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 10:37 AM

I’m inclined to agree with you about an emerging revisionist take on Miller’s complexity, though I think this news is hardest on people our ages and older. My father, whose 80th Birthday we celebrated over the weekend, idolized Miller, and we talked about the revelation at the party. He was crushed, furious. Death of a Salesman is his favorite work of art, hands down, and he bitterly swore to me he’d never read it or see it again. That was probably heat-of-the-moment. Still, to give you a sense of how important Miller is to him, I haven’t heard him this exercised since Watergate.

—– Original Message —–
From: Arirothdc@aol.com
To: petermarks….
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 10:51 AM
Subject: Re: On Arthur Miller, for our reconsideration…

Now that’s an interesting response! Amy Ziff just said she’ll never read his work again. She said that, upon learning that Melville beat his wife to a pulp, she mobilized a “BAN MOBY DICK” campaign for course curricula!
Interestingly, at my folks’ home, my mother shrink gave Miller a free pass. As did my dad. And a dear Israeli friend whose youngest child (of 5) has Down’s Syndrome and whose life was turned upside down as their daughter moved into their home on the kibbutz, said she totally sympathized with Miller and wouldn’t think differently of him one bit. She teaches ALL MY SONS which is standard on the Israeli “Bagrut” (SAT).
I get a kick out of your dad’s expression…

Original Message —–
From: petermarks…
To: Arirothdc@aol.com
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 10:57 AM

my family goes in for more primal responses…