by Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.
After The Fall And What a Fall There Was
by Arthur Miller
The Roundabout Theater
The American Airlines Theater
227 West 42 Street www.roundabouttheatre.org
reviewed by Margaret Croyden July 31, 2004
To criticize Arthur Miller, a man who has created such memorable and brilliant plays in his long life--a man who has now reached his middle eighties and is still active, is a difficult assignment. But this 1970's revival of Arthur Miller's "After The Fall" is a sad disappointment. His ill-disguised autobiography, particularly his distaste for the women in his life--except for his third wife, comes off as a solipsistic self-tribute and a justification for his faulty marriages and family conflicts. Written after his collapsed marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and after he was haunted by the McCarthy inquisition hearings that destroyed many of his friends' lives and careers, he may have the need to expiate guilt, regret and any number of lingering emotions. But this is a guess.
The play opens in a waiting area of an airport. Incidentally no such lounge has ever been seen. It is a spectacular set of shiny aluminum spiral staircases, and stunning modern furniture, which later is used for beds, sofas, and even a bar. Quentin the main character, a prominent lawyer, waits in the airport for the arrival of his new "love" from Germany and, in the process, remembers his past and those who crossed his life. All of whom wander aimlessly through the play interspersing with each other as they reenact scenes from his life. All the while Quintin delivers (face front to the audience) a non-stop commentary as he compares, contrasts, and comments on himself and all the characters, acting as his own Greek chorus. These monologues full of soul searching psycobabble and self-justifications are not only deadly, but give the audience no chance to make its own interpretation of events. The scenes crawl on endlessly. Every moment is drawn out more than ten times its worth. We get the point hours before the curtain finally falls. Worse still, this unrelenting mind-numbing stream of commentary gives Quintin (as played by Peter Krause) a tone of a whining, complaining adolescent.
Quintin's main complaint seems to be the women in his life, First, his mother: she behaves as if she would like to seduce her son, since she continually exposes her legs to him in a provocative fashion. She thinks her husband is an idiot, an expression she screams out a number of times while the young Quintin stands horrified. The second culprit is Quintin's first wife. A nagging malcontent, an irrasible, accusatory, shrew who has nothing but fierce contempt for her husband is a very unconvincing one-sided character. Quintin, on the other hand, is depicted as the victim with everyone. He tries to do good, he says; he placates his wife and mother and when he marries his second wife, Maggie, a switchboard operator who turns rock star--the Marilyn Monroe figure-- he is once again the victim. By the end of the play Maggie she is a drunken, paranoid pill taker, who berates him while he takes it all until he can no longer face her demands, her fame, and her drunken scenes. But it is hard to believe that he is blameless. Though he talks about truth, honesty, and integrity. But the character's inner motivations and perplexing actions are murky. What comes through is narcissistic self justification.
One of the main faults in the play is the lead actor Peter Krause. He may be a TV idol on HBO's "Six Feet Under" but he cannot act this part. He has no sense of the character; he has no presence on stage; every line he utters has the ring of callowness; every speech has the same rhythm; his body is inert, graceless. He is neither sexy nor intellectual; neither angry nor sad, he has little affect. This part demands a grand actor with long time experience and deep emotional capability--none of which Mr. Krause has. Carla Gugino gives a better performance in the Marilyn Monroe part. In a garish red wig and a baby voice and a body to go with it, she captures Monroe's essential infantilism. However in her "big" moment at the end, when the marriage is over, and she is besotted by drugs and alcohol, Ms. Gugino's acting sharply changes. In a overwritten scene with its redundant emotional tantrum her overacting is exhausting to watch and therefore uninvolving. More restraint would have better. Despite these weaknesses, she manages to give the production some energy. Holga, the German woman (Vivienne Benesch) with whom Quintin eventually finds true love is never developed; she seems to be idealized and has a German way of saying the r's as w's. That is the sum total of her characterization. No one knows why he falls in love with her in the first place.
But the real problem is the lead. Had the producers not cast a television personality (with no real stage experience) to play this huge role things may have worked out differently. If producers feel they must have a recognizable TV "star" to sell a show, they will pay the price of delivering a mediocre production by people ill-equipped to be on a stage. [Croyden]
Margaret Croyden's recent book is "Conversations With Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
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