A first preview is under our belt. We make discoveries. We scale the mountain. It runs 2 hours and 25 minutes (not including a 15 minute intermission). We make adjustments. That’s what a preview at night and follow-up rehearsals by day are for. Further refinements. The play is amazing. It is amazingly large. It is about so many things. And yet its argument is entirely accessible at its essence: Can we love again after the destruction of love? After seeing our own murderous part in the death of idealism, can we believe again? Can we regain faith in ourselves and in another after we have betrayed and been betrayed?
Dated questions? I think not.
I wonder what 20+ students think who saw first preview last night! They see THE CRUCIBLE over at Church Street Theatre tonight, produced by our friends at Keegan. We’ll see what folks have to say about the relationship between these two very different, yet also similar works. Here are a few thoughts I wrote in the program:
It is both surprising, yet strangely comforting to remember that The Crucible was not what anyone would deem an instant success when it first opened at the Martin Beck Theatre to mixed reviews and was listed as a failure in Variety. That sense of initial dismissiveness is even more attributable to After The Fall. Too much focus, it seems, was spent making superficial parallels between reality and the drama on stage. In fact, an inordinate amount of ink parsed those differences, skewing much of the serious discussion surrounding both After The Fall and The Crucible. We consider the two works in tandem today, as our friends at Keegan Theatre mount their own production of The Crucible just three blocks away at the Church Street Theater, while we gather to investigate Miller’s more neglected epic in our space.
Miller had occasion to reflect on the gradual acceptance of The Crucible in popular consciousness after its influential Off-Broadway revival, some six years after the premiere, which ushered the play into the pantheon as one of the most produced plays in the world.
“Now that McCarthyism is only a word to a large part of the audience, the play seems closer to what I had envisioned in the first place: there is a wider reference—to the human tendency to lay conscience on the altar of Authority—and perhaps this comes through more evidently now. At bottom, I suppose I was trying to assert that there is almost a biology of human ethics and that people literally die when it is violated—all in order to further define what a man is. Now that the journalism is out of the way, maybe this comes to the fore. . .”
What a wonderful way of framing our entry into After The Fall: Now that the journalism, and the gossip, and the gawking are out of the way, we can stop referencing the sensationalized spectacle of Marilyn Monroe and her starlet’s suicide, and look at what really lies at the heart of this deeply probing, quietly heroic, utterly humane play.
Jose Carrasquillo’s visionary staging, with its streamlined cast size emphasizing a transformational theatricality and essentializing the meaning of the forces who both form–and transform–Quentin’s character, helps us take a huge step away from the gossip page’s outrage that Miller was writing a rough, unsentimental chronicle too soon after his second wife’s death. What we come to see instead, as in The Crucible, is the story of a man wrestling with his own flaws and hesitancies to re-engage with the world in the wake of society’s breaking down — in the shadows of The Shoah and in the wake of McCarthyism’s hysteria that so disfigured our landscape–that same man finds himself an implicated bystander to our century’s greatest crimes and so begins to understand how our calamitous history might have happened; how we might begin anew; how, in the wake of so much wreckage, we can become worthy of renewal.
After The Falls holds up so incredibly well today and feels like such a contemporary documentation (even with its time-capsule attentiveness to the morals and mores of its time) because it is both brutally honest and confessional—and yet complex in a way that transcends today’s sophomoric tell-alls—as it fuses our culture’s obsession with celebrity and our subjugation to prevailing authority—interweaving community opprobrium within the framework of the individual’s quest for liberation and clarity; for speaking and living out a marriage, and a life, of truth as opposed to one of compromise and falsehood.
It’s both Jose’s vision for this production, and the passage not only of time, but of the passing of Arthur Miller himself, that helps us really see this play anew. Only after Miller’s death are we, perhaps, able to see the alter-ego of Quentin in more appreciating terms. While brooding introspection and self-incrimination are pretty much out of vogue these days, the charges of authorial indulgence were hurled pretty viciously at this play early on. What emerges now for us instead is something much more admirable: a character who prosecutes himself astringently, examines his life comprehensively, and refuses to let himself off the hook. Quentin has a similarly clear-eyed assessment of how so many soft-pedaled the terrors of Communism, which is offset by the horror registered in seeing how our country so grossly over-reacted to the threat of the Red Menace. In our age of bullet points and sound bites, Quentin allows us to experience a layered and complex moral reckoning with our past and present, as Miller dares us to see ourselves as both complicit actors as well as capable of retrieving innocence. We must begin to believe anew. This is Miller in his prophetic mode, not as moral scold, but as social animal, insisting that we find the will to add to the world with new love.
The play makes us feel tremendous loss. And that’s a credit to the playwright’s powers of empathy. More than anything, the revelation of this production is in Miller’s bravery as a writer. He digs deep, and reveals soul-baring moments, not just from him own character’s life, but in charting the crises of so many others. Miller taps into the lower depths. And that kind of writing takes courage. Perhaps that’s what we take away from this production as well: The courage to see ourselves in all that is good and bad in the world, and thus a compulsion to be a part of its betterment.