Saturday, February 12, 2005

Arthur Miller

Thanks to Professor William Kovacsik for allowing us to post his e-mail about the passing of Arthur Miller

Some random thoughts from me:

In my essay for my AP Exam, I wrote about The Crucible. Don't remember what I wrote, but I know I wrote about it. Couldn't have said too much intelligent since I knew almost nothing about sex at that time, and must have completely missed the dynamic between John Proctor, his wife, and the girl with whom he had an affair. I do know that even when I forget the particulars of the play (and that is never for too long, there always seems to be a new version coming out), I do remember John Proctor saying, as he confronts the reality of his certain death, "Because It Is My Name, And I Can Have No Other." I try to keep that in mind, and as I get older, and I see how hard it is to live up to that, and how often I fail to. Always though, you try to get back to it. I was the only person in my AP English class to write an essay about a book that was not actually covered in the class (we had actually read The Crucible in 10th grade). Got the "5" (the highest grade).

One of my great theatre going regrets, so far, is that I still have not seen a production of A View From The Bridge, and that I missed Tony LaPaglia doing it a few years ago. As an actor, I always envisioned doing that myself. The time has passed. I am not too old, but I doubt I could be that raw night after night and still function day after day.

One of my great theatre nerd pleasures was arguing the merits of After The Fall, a play I still haven't seen yet either (and perhaps never will) over two full class periods with the theatre lit professor at Hofstra. My professor, who probably knew some of the people being depicted, and knew whether Miller had been "fair" to them or not, hated everything about the play. I conceded that I could not vouch for the accuracy of the piece, but I knew that it was a great play, and as memories of the people involved faded, would take its place for emotional truth. Got the "A" anyway.

Did not see George C. Scott do Willy Loman in Death of A Salesman, but I did see the Dustin Hoffman production, and I bought tickets in advance. It is hard now to remember that they kept pushing back the production because the actor playing Biff, an actor unfamiliar to me, was off making a movie somewhere with Sally Field. Why would Dustin Hoffman wait for someone to finish making a Sally Field movie? Of course, looking back it is easy to see why they would wait for Malkovich to finish filming Places In The Heart.

As much as Hoffman "rewrote" Willy -- changing him from a "walrus" to a "shrimp," Malkovich changed Biff from a football player banging against the wall of post "big man on campus" reality to a confused young man whose only connection to football was an attempt to win his father's love and respect. Being a young man myself, I completely related. I certainly was watching a much different play than the one my high school English teacher (not to mention the afore-mentioned college professor) taught me to expect.

There is a film of Hoffman and Malkovich doing Death of A Salesman, and it is OK, but that play, and all the great Arthur Miller great plays are plays, and they need to be seen live. They are too "hot" for film, the emotions too raw.

(It is hard to look at Malkovich now and remember what an amazing stage actor he was, and if you are not a professional actor, it is impossible to understand how important Malkovich is to what we all do as stage actors, and writers and directors. In some ways, Malkovich is the most important -- maybe the best, but certainly the most important -- stage actor of the last 30 years.)

Finally saw The Misfits for the first time, well, the first two times, since I couldn't see it only once, on TCM very recently. Miller knew how to write for film as well, and that movie, about dying breeds of all sorts, is completely unique. Couldn't make a movie like that except through a series of accidents, since Gable, Monroe and Clift are all completely out of control, and you can see it on screen. As a sometime professional actor, I hate to say something so philistine, but no one is that honest on purpose.

I wouldn't go back to those days, but it does show you that straining against a Production Code has its values. Nowadays, you would have Monroe's character pole dancing, and you would have every moment of raw emotion replaced by a sex scene, which I guess is even more raw, but far less honest.

WCK talked about Miller's role in his development as a playwright. I have been talking about him as an actor, and as an actor doing Miller, the key, for me, is that since Miller is always telling you just the way things are (the moral honesty that is lacking, well not just in today's theatre, but in all theatre at all times), you have to show how hard it is to be so honest in a dishonest world. And it would be nicer still, both for your lungs and for the audience's ears, if you can do that without screaming. Few, even at the professional level, seem able to pull it off.

Malkovich did Biff at a whisper, an impossible stunt, that he could pull off in only that time and place (he would never be that young/ that old again), and thanks to his example, you can now see as much bad Miller acting at the whisper level as you used to see at the scream level.

My good friend Gloria Falzer is slated to do The Ride Down Mt Morgan at Twelve Miles West in Bloomfield, New Jersey later this spring. I have never seen that one, know nothing about it. I think I better get my tickets now. I am sure Gloria Falzer will not engage in bad acting. The other people -- who knows?