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A CurtainUp Review
After the Fall
By Elyse Sommer
With Arthur Miller's blessing and collaboration, director Michael Mayer (who successfully revived A View from the Bridge, also for the Roundabout), has made some adroit moves to rescue After the Fall from its low ranking in the Miller canon. Although some of these moves are an improvement over the original, the play eludes a completely successful rescue mission -- especially in view of the sadly miscast Peter Krause of TV's Six Feet Under as the leading player which leaves us looking to the secondary players to provide the richness of character that have built Miller's reputation.
Among Mayer's right moves is the way he's streamlined the verbose text by applying his blue pencil to a character named Felice. He's also enlisted the audience to play the listener or sounding board for Quentin's agonized monologues and flashbacks, which neatly eliminates the script's unseen listener, probably a therapist. Even with these and other cuts, it still takes two and a half hours to unpack all the issues that have become an inseparable jumble of unresolved conflicts swirling around in the mind of Miller's alter ego, thinly disguised as a lawyer, as the the character of Maggie is an even more thinly disguised stand-in for his second wife Marilyn Monroe.
According to a conversation between Miller and Mayer in the Roundabout's magazine, Front & Center, "The link between the private and the public life is what is involved in the big dramas of our civilization. Hamlet is not just a fellow; he's also the heir to the Danish throne. . . " This explains why Quentin's feverish guilt trip encompasses themes explored one at a time and with a clearer focus in plays like The Price and The Crucible and accounts for the at times surreal flashbacks that merge Quentin's guilt about not being a better son, husband, friend and world citizen, and the challenge of redemption.
The " TWA " announcement that initiates this production sounds a bit too much like a sly inside joke that gives the airline whose name is on this handsome theater's marque as well at at airline terminals the last laugh over its defunct rival. On the plus side, Richard Hoover's jaw-dropping look-alike of Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal does give this forty-year-old play a very modern look and fits the script's stream-of-consciousness structure well. However, this not being a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies, navigating that silvery double stairway puts a strain on the actors that at times smacks of evident discomfort. Ultimately, this striking set ends up leaving us as uninvolved with Quentin's search for redemption and as eager as anyone lingering in the sterile, anonymity of an airline terminal is to leave as quickly as possible.
While both Jason Robards (in the original ) and Frank Langella (in the Off-Broadway revival) ably projected Quentin's complex inner conflict, neither was able to make him less sanctimonious than sympathetic. Mr. Krause's Quentin falls short on all counts. He is too vacuous to get hold of the role's complexities or to win our sympathy.
Fortunately, the women Quentin has been unhappily involved with are terrific: glamorous but controlling monster mom (Candy Buckley), the somewhat sarcastic first wife (Jessica Hecht) and the second wife (Carla Gugino), whose rise from switchboard operator to iconic pop singer turns a deep-seated inferiority complex into fatally self-destructive behavior.
While Quentin may view his mother and wives as his tormentors, he's smart enough to look to a woman for that elusive redemption. That woman is Holga (Vivienne Benesch), the anti-Nazi German archeologist he's come to the airport to meet (another stand-in, in this case for Miller's recently deceased wife, photographer Inge Morath). Benesch, in addition to rounding out the strong female performances finally gives Quentin the simple solution for all his kvetching: "one must finally take one's own life into one's own arms."
In the final analysis Miller's play remains disappointingly shallower than its monologues and stylish surface suggest. It may not be all about his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, but it's Carla Gugino's spectacular Broadway debut as the very Monroe-like Maggie that makes this After the Fall worth seeing. She's a redhead rather than a blonde and doesn't really look like Monroe, but she's tapped into the sex appeal and vulnerability. When we first see her she evokes memories of the famous picture of Marilyn her skirt swirling around her like a gossamer cloud.
The way Gugino dominates the second act and brings Maggie -- and through her the play -- to life, you can't help wishing that Mr. Miller had given Marilyn a play of her own as he gave McCarthyism and his family's dysfunction full-length treatments. Maybe Finishing the Picture, the newest play from this untiring octogenarian which is about the making of the film, The Misfits will come closer to bringing real closure to the Miller-Monroe relationship.
For an overview of Arthur Miller's career and links go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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