Miller on Marilyn, ‘After the Fall’, in ’66

The literary magazine Paris Review has posted a 1966 interview with Arthur Miller, where he talks about his relationship with Marilyn, and After the Fall.

“MILLER: I think Strasberg is a symptom, really. He’s a great force, and (in my unique opinion, evidently) a force that is not for the good in the theater. He makes actors secret people and he makes acting secret, and it’s the most communicative art known to man; I mean, that’s what the actor’s supposed to be doing … The problem is that the actor is now working out his private fate through his role, and the idea of communicating the meaning of the play is the last thing that occurs to him. In the Actors Studio, despite denials, the actor is told that the text is really the framework for his emotions … This is Method, as they are teaching it, which is, of course, a perversion of it, if you go back to the beginning. But there was always a tendency in that direction.

INTERVIEWER: What about Method acting in the movies?

MILLER: Well, in the movies, curiously enough, the Method works better. Because the camera can come right up to an actor’s nostrils and suck out of him a communicative gesture; a look in the eye, a wrinkle of his grin, and so on, which registers nothing on the stage.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the push toward personal success dominates American life now more than it used to?

MILLER: I think it’s far more powerful today than when I wrote Death of a Salesman. I think it’s closer to a madness today than it was then. Now there’s no perspective on it at all.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say that the girl in After the Fall is a symbol of that obsession?

MILLER: Yes, she is consumed by what she does, and instead of it being a means of release, it’s a jail. A prison which defines her, finally. She can’t break through. In other words, success, instead of giving freedom of choice, becomes a way of life.

Barbara Loden as Maggie in ‘After the Fall’, featured in LIFE (1964)

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel in the New York production that the girl allegedly based on Marilyn Monroe was out of proportion, entirely separate from Quentin?

MILLER: Yes, although I failed to foresee it myself. In the Italian production this never happened; it was always in proportion. I suppose, too, that by the time Zeffirelli did the play, the publicity shock had been absorbed, so that one could watch Quentin’s evolution without being distracted.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think happened in New York?

MILLER: Something I never thought could happen. The play was never judged as a play at all. Good or bad, I would never know what it was from what I read about it, only what it was supposed to have been.

INTERVIEWER: Because they all reacted as if it were simply a segment of your personal life?

MILLER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Could this question of timing have affected the reaction here to After the Fall?

MILLER: The ironic thing to me was that I heard cries of indignation from various people who had in the lifetime of Marilyn Monroe either exploited her unmercifully, in a way that would have subjected them to peonage laws, or mocked her viciously, or refused to take any of her pretensions seriously. So consequently, it was impossible to credit their sincerity.

INTERVIEWER: Was it the play, The Crucible itself, do you think, or was it perhaps that piece you did in the Nation—’A Modest Proposal’—that focused the Un-American Activities Committee on you?

MILLER: Well, I had made a lot of statements and I had signed a great many petitions. I’d been involved in organizations, you know, putting my name down for fifteen years before that. But I don’t think they ever would have bothered me if I hadn’t married Marilyn. Had they been interested, they would have called me earlier. And, in fact, I was told on good authority that the then chairman, Francis Walter, said that if Marilyn would take a photograph with him, shaking his hand, he would call off the whole thing. It’s as simple as that. Marilyn would get them on the front pages right away.”

Critical Acclaim for Dublin’s ‘Misfits’

Reviews are in for Annie Ryan’s recent production of The Misfits at the Dublin Theatre Festival. It’s unclear as yet whether a full run will follow, so watch this space!

“Roslyn (Aobhínn McGinnity), first played by Monroe, is stronger, more worldly, and more sardonic than the original, and, crucially, she is a brunette, instantly drawing a distinction with Monroe … The play suffers from the same problems Miller’s original novella and screenplay did; it is an awkward narrative that constantly changes tone, and is eventually unclear in what it wanted to say. This production, though, one of the most anticipated of the Dublin Theatre Festival, does not disappoint.” – Ciarán Leinster, Reviews Hub

“If there appears to be a lack of nuance in the characters, it’s one that has been forced on them by their circumstances. It’s a strength of Miller’s writing that he is still able to reveal a humanity in the characters … Aoibhinn McGinnity’s Roslyn and Úna Kavanagh’s Isabelle hold the keys, even if in the latter case it’s just the key to the bar, both just as much misfits to the power dynamic of a very male-centred world.” -Noel  Megahey, The Digital Fix

“Stage-plays migrate into movies frequently, often with great success; the traffic is lighter in the other direction. Some of the technical challenges are here very well met by movement director Justine Cooper; the lassoing of the mustang is effective, complete with the character of Isabelle embodying the struggling horse.

All five performances are first-rate, each actor taking plenty of risks. This is a thoroughly enjoyable dramatic probe into what’s biting the American male; it ends on a profound and optimistic note.” – Irish Independent

“While Roslyn stirs their passions, she is not the flaky sex object that a visibly unhappy Marilyn Monroe played in her final movie. She instead becomes the means of exposing the men’s rootlessness, insecurity and uncertain sense of self. Miller may have seen himself as a misfit in the sense of being a political malcontent, but Ryan’s version reminds us that at the heart of the story is a wider crisis in masculinity.” – Michael Billington, The Guardian

‘All About Eve’ on the London Stage

Following the news that The Misfits will be staged at the Dublin Theatre Festival later this month (see here), London’s Evening Standard reports that All About Eve will open at the Noel Coward Theatre next February for a limited 14-week run, with Gillian Anderson and Lily James recreating the lead roles played by Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Oscar-winning 1950 movie. Of course, All About Eve is all about life in the theatre, and it’s not the first time it’s crossed over to the stage. In 1970, Lauren Bacall won a Tony award for Applause, a hit Broadway musical adaptation. This new take will also feature music, by the acclaimed singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey. It’s not clear yet who will play the supporting character of Claudia Caswell, whose original incarnation gave Marilyn one of her first big breaks.

Miller’s Elegy for Marilyn in Kansas City

Some Kind of Love Story, one of the plays in Arthur Miller’s 1982 double bill, Two-Way Mirror, is considered to be inspired by Marilyn. However, its lesser-known counterpoint, Elegy For A Lady – currently playing at Birdie’s on West 18th Street as part of the Open Spaces festival in Kansas City – also brings her to mind, as Alan Portner writes for Broadway World.

“Elegy For A Lady is a tiny fragment of a play lasting no more than forty minutes, but also an insight into the mind of American playwright Arthur Miller. Instead of being performed in a traditional theater, Bob Paisley and Heidi Van inhabit their characters inside a tiny lady’s boutique in the Crossroads among, rather than in front of, a tiny audience of about twenty people.

Neither actor is named in the script. They are the owner of the boutique and a middle-aged man with a longing desire to purge his soul of a much younger woman. She is his mistress, yet emotionally unobtainable. The man obviously wants more. The mistress requires a separation. The mistress is ill and soon to undergo a serious operation. The man shops for a gift before she enters treatment.

Somehow, a bond grows between the shop owner and her customer. She becomes his muse and ultimately his lover. Having the audience in the middle makes the action all the more intimate.

Heidi Van, as the shop owner, wears the iconic blond hairstyle from Monroe’s last completed film, The Misfits. Van, in costume, is close to a ringer for Monroe.

Bob Paisley as the stand-in for Arthur Miller is sufficiently tortured by his own infidelities, his love for this almost unobtainable avatar of a woman, and his need to unburden himself. Van listens, advises, then transforms into the woman about whom the Miller-like character obsesses. They make love and abruptly the relationship ends. The playlet ends. The audience wants more, but there is no more.”

Marilyn at the Edinburgh Festival

Marilyn is a hot topic in fringe theatre, though the results aren’t always stellar. At this year’s Edinburgh Festival, she’s the subject of two new shows, reviewed by Joyce McMillan for The Scotsman.

The Marilyn Conspiracy has grabbed a few headlines although Marilyn herself isn’t depicted – it’s set in the hours after her death, as some of the main players in her final months respond to the tragedy.

“The play is desperately confusing at first, and urgently needs to use its tableau-like opening moments to let the characters tell us exactly who they are … It’s a measure of the sheer power of the story, though, that the play rivets the attention nonetheless, as the two doctors in the room, and even Marilyn’s furious friend Pat Newcomb, are gradually worn down … “

However, another audience member – MM superfan Lorraine – told me, “The Marilyn Conspiracy had all the bogus theories – the ambulance, Bobby Kennedy, injections, enemas etc … I could hear people laughing a lot at some of the theories talked about … maybe the audience all knew better!” In his review for The Stage Paul Vale agrees, describing the play as a “stifling, under-developed drama that blurs fact and fiction.”

Theatregoers whom (like myself) aren’t enthralled by conspiracy theories may prefer the lighter option…

“JoJo Desmond’s cabaret show The Marilyn Monroe Story is a fragile little piece by comparison, a brief and simply staged hour of songs and biographical narrative tracing Marilyn’s remarkable life, not least through versions of some of her most famous and fabulous costumes. Desmond sings Marilyn’s songs beautifully, in a near-perfect imitation of her breathily gorgeous voice; and she, too, observes the link with the #metoo moment. Her script, though, never soars into anything like the brilliant writing a life like Marilyn’s invites and for all her charm, she is a long way from even beginning to capture the glowing charisma of the woman herself.”

Once again, Lorraine’s view was quite different to McMillan’s. “On the whole,” she says, “the show was well-researched and the costumes and mannerisms and performances of songs were spot on … the voice was accurate and she had some beautiful costumes (including a ‘Heat Wave’ replica outfit!), and you could tell that she had studied every single movement that Marilyn does in each of the musical performances.”

Where Marilyn is concerned, a diehard fan can be more perceptive than most theatre critics. Lorraine will be posting her full review of both shows soon on the Marilyn Remembered blog.

When Will ‘Fellow Travelers’ Make It to Broadway?

Fellow Travelers, Jack Canfora’s new play about Marilyn, Arthur and Elia Kazan, was critically acclaimed when it opened in the Hamptons this June (see here.) The producers are now hoping for a Broadway run – but as Michael Reidel reports for the New York Post, without a star attached it’s going to be an uphill journey.

“This issue is bedeviling a compelling new play that, if it could get a Broadway theater, would be a strong contender to win the Tony next year. Jack Canfora’s Fellow Travelers — about the real-life combustible triangle of Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and Marilyn Monroe during the McCarthy era — opened in June to rave reviews at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater.

Local critics called director Michael Wilson’s production ‘phenomenal,’ ‘sharp,’ ‘witty’ and ‘gripping.’ New York’s major papers, alas, didn’t review the show. Had their reviews been good, the play would have stood a much greater chance of getting to Broadway.

Somebody slipped me a copy of the play, and it’s terrific. Fellow Travelers takes a few liberties here and there with the facts, but it digs deep into the complicated friendship — and falling out — between Kazan and Miller.

And it spices things up by adding Monroe to the stew. In his biography Arthur Miller, Martin Gottfried suggests that Kazan threw Monroe in Miller’s way, knowing that she would upend the playwright’s life.

Gripping as it is, Fellow Travelers has yet to find its way onto Broadway. ‘We don’t have a star,’ a production source says. Celeb duos are being floated — Andrew Garfield and Jake Gyllenhaal and Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy among them. If they read the script, they would leap at the chance to play such juicy characters.

Until then, Fellow Travelers languishes on Broadway’s waitlist. That’s a pity.”

‘The Misfits’ On the Stage

The Misfits will have its first ever stage adaptation (as far as I’m aware) at the Dublin Theatre Festival from late September to mid-October, as Jennifer O’Brien reports for The Times. While I don’t think the movie should ever be remade, I’m glad to see Arthur Miller’s creation getting a new lease of life.

The Misfits already has an Irish connection, as prior to filming in 1960, Arthur had visited director John Huston at St. Cleran’s, his estate near Galway, to discuss the project (while Marilyn was filming Let’s Make Love in Hollywood.) No dates have yet been announced, but it will be staged at the Corn Exchange – and I’ll be keeping you posted, so watch this space!

“The production, directed by Annie Ryan, was announced as part of the line-up for the Dublin Theatre Festival … [Aoibhinn] McGinnity, 31, said that while she was looking forward to playing Tabor at the Corn Exchange, she had not watched the film that inspired the play.

‘I hadn’t seen the film, but had met Annie to chat about the concept, and it was like, You know what, maybe don’t watch the film,’ she said. ‘We are not going to play it like Marilyn Monroe; we are going to do our own spin.’

Ryan has promised that her version of The Misfits will offer it ‘the space to come into its fullest expression’. ‘Annie is trying to rewrite it from a different angle and it brings in so many things about feminism and masculinity,’ McGinnity said.”

UPDATE: The Misfits will be staged at Dublin’s Corn Exchange from September 27-October 1. More details here.

‘Finishing the Picture’ Opens in London

Arthur Miller’s last play, Finishing the Picture, has opened at London’s Finborough Theatre to mostly positive reviews – although some critics have questioned why Kitty (the Marilyn-based character) is so constantly talked about, but never actually seen. Only the second production (and first in Europe), it’s on until July 7.

“The play itself is a pretty static thing, involving much talking in circles as to how to coax the radiantly beautiful and gifted Kitty (Monroe) out of her crippling self doubt and drug dependency in order to complete filming and save her from herself. Crucially, Kitty never appears on stage and has no voice, rendering her the kind of unknowable goddess/tormentor … indeed the whole piece has the feel of an exercise to seek ‘closure’ for this chapter of his life.” – The Stage

“The cohesive group of actors deliver strong performances from start to finish … A jarring peek into the ugly truth behind the idealisation of film stars opposed to the reality of the profession, Miller’s final play becomes of momentous meaning in the aftermath of the Weinstein scandal.” – Broadway World

“Even as all the production members attempt to cajole Kitty into emerging from her hotel room and returning to set, there is a sense that their supposed concern for her is secondary: they will say whatever they must to save the picture … the ensemble do not seem to appreciate their culpability in the downfall of women like Monroe, and even by the play’s conclusion there is a sense that, even as Kitty has a slight chance of recovery, it may only be temporary.” – Reviews Hub

“It’s an interesting decision Miller made not to give Kitty herself a voice, but to show how those around her project on to this blank screen their own preoccupations and prejudices. The trouble is, we end up with very little idea of why Kitty is having a breakdown. In his programme note, director Phil Willmott alludes to the Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement, but sexual abuse of women in Hollywood doesn’t really feature in the play — even if it is implied that Kitty is regarded as a commodity.” – Londonist,

Finishing the Picture feels like an exorcism, a celebration, an apology and an inquest – it’s a patchy but powerful look at the dark forces that made Monroe such a vital but troubled personality … Miller has elected to keep Kitty entirely off-stage. It’s a clever device, which emphasises Kitty’s loneliness, but it sucks the life out of the play. Everything is reported, precious little happens and the most interesting character doesn’t get a look in.” – The Guardian

“Forty years on from his After the Fall, [Miller] returned to trying to explain – not excuse, not quite – the disintegration of his relationship with Monroe, alias Kitty. Here, he reserves his full venom for Method acting gurus Lee and Paula Strasberg … Yet Miller the playwright’s concern for Monroe seems as effortful as that of Paul, the Miller character. The biggest surprise, puzzle and disappointment is that, for someone so evidently haunted by the memory, Miller can in the end (literally, for him, the end) offer so little unique insight.” – Financial Times

“This is a tribute play. Miller had true affection for Monroe and with Finishing The Picture, this is clearly on show. An incredible look at the power of  and the absurdity of unchecked ego. Phil Willmott’s skilful direction expertly bringing this passionate play to life.” – Boyz

“The history is fascinating (for a while at least), but the play less so. It is hampered by the fact that Kitty is always off stage. Instead we get snippets from lives of less importance … you can feel the claustrophobia here of being stuck in a hotel in the middle of nowhere. But I soon got bored with the seesaw drama of Kitty’s ability to stand up.” – The Times 

“The intimate setting of the Finborough Theatre provides a perfect foreground for Miller’s innermost thinking to unpack. Herein, the audience are given a rare glimpse into the dark imperfections of Monroe’s character and how those in her orbit, superbly brought to life by the performing ensemble, struggle to pacify her mercurial tendencies.” – KCW Today 

“Like many old men’s plays (think of Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken), it is spare and static. But it is admirably animated by director Phil Willmott with a skilful use of music and sound effects to represent the unseen Kitty.” – Daily Express

‘Marilyn!’ Musical Is Leaving Las Vegas

Ruby Lewis as Marilyn

Marilyn! The New Musical is set to close on June 17 (after just twenty-three performances), Scott Roeben reports for Vital Vegas. While a press release states that the show is merely ‘on hiatus’, Roeben predicts it won’t be coming back.

“From what we hear, the implosion of Marilyn! The New Musical had little to do with the talent of its cast. Even as the show opened, there were rumors of behind-the-scenes drama, including a lack of competent direction and serious financial issues, and entertainment insiders predicted the show would have a very short run.”

Here’s another take from John Kasilometes at the Las Vegas Review-Journal

“Sources also report that producer Tegan Summer, founder of Prospect House Entertainment, is seeking a new investor in the project. Those reports are in line with a production that has abruptly lost its primary funding and is forced to go dark while looking for more money.

Marilyn! also suffered myriad unexpected obstacles, such as the late delivery of its stage set — reportedly producers used a company not experienced in furnishing sets to Strip production shows. Thus, the show’s scenery, crucial to any production’s aesthetics, was not completed until the week after its premiere.

But commonly, if a production show holds its financial investment, it can ride out such early production snags. It can also weather a poor reception.

Lewis, who devoted up to four hours a day working with Summer on mastering the title role, said today, ‘I’m pretty bummed out. It’s back to the drawing board, I’m afraid.’ Lewis, who left Baz at Palazzo Theater to join the production, is working on a new album.”

UK Revival for ‘Some Kind of Love Story’

Marilyn and Arthur on the ‘Misfits’ set. (Photo by Bruce Davidson, 1960)

In addition to Finishing the Picture, opening in London this month, another Miller play is being revived in the UK by the StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Some Kind of Love Story (1982) is a one-act play, touring London and the South-East this summer as part of a double bill with a Brazilian play, Tieta (The Trial). (Some critics believe Love Story is loosely inspired by Arthur’s relationship with Marilyn. It was originally produced with another Miller play, as Two-Way Mirror.)

“Inspired by the 1940s and 50s film noir genre, Some Kind of Love Story is a dramatic gem: former lovers Angela and Tom meet one night to discuss the Felix Epstein case, which Tom has been trying to crack for five years. He is convinced Angela has privileged information, therefore holding the key to the innocent Felix’s release from prison. But Angela will not tell. Is Tom ready for the truth?

Miller hits back at the themes of American justice and the search for truth in a tale of corruption, drugs, power and abuse.”