Last time we checked in with OSU’s Elizabeth Helman, she was directing the successful Bard in the Quad series for the university. Now she’s back with a production of the great playwright Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, an autobiographical and abstract play by the writer of dozens of classic plays and films, including Death of a Salesman, The Price, The Crucible, and The Misfits. This play is an unusual and divisive piece that takes place mostly in the writer’s memories.
The play concerns a lawyer named Quentin, who is very transparently a representation of Miller himself. To make sure this is not missed, the young actor playing Quentin was dressed as basically a young Arthur Miller: slender, with thick rimmed glasses and a suit.
Then, as in Miller’s own life, Quentin reminisces on his first, second, and third wives, and the respective anxieties and troubles between him and them.
Quentin was admirably brought to life by a talented young actor named Joseph Workman, who really had to carry a lot of weight here, essentially doing double duty as narrator and star. He was on stage for the entirety of the performance, which in itself is not an easy feat.
The play is notable for many reasons, but two of the most interesting are some of the real life representations within.
Aside from Miller, the character Maggie, his second wife, is clearly his second wife in real life, Marilyn Monroe. At the time of the play’s release in 1964, her death by apparent suicide was still fresh in people’s minds, having happened only two years earlier. The character of Maggie caused a minor scandal, as the play depicts her in a less than flattering light.
It also depicts her in all her frailty and addiction-addled mania quite admirably. Alycia Olivar played the role beautifully, although it was one of the roles where the age of the cast was somewhat of a hindrance. It’s hard to see the boozy, by that time 36-year-old, Monroe in the young Olivar.
The scenes with her are a fascinating glimpse that we don’t always get into the mind of men like Miller, who in real life married Monroe after having an affair with her only to have the relationship end shortly before her death.
The other interesting real life representation is the rather minor character of Mickey, played by Jonathan Thompson.
This character is clearly meant to be Elia Kazan, the brilliant and legendary director of On the Waterfront, who was a friend and collaborator of Arthur Miller’s. Both men testified before the government’s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), although Miller declined to name others who he knew to have been communists or communist sympathizers, while Kazan did.
The men were close and Kazan had directed several Miller plays on Broadway, including Death of a Salesman and All My Sons. The episode with HUAC complicated their relationship, and after Kazan testified in 1952, they didn’t speak for years. Still, Kazan directed the premier of After the Fall on Broadway in 1964.
All of this rich, interesting history makes the slick, professionally realized OSU production of After the Fall even more enjoyable. Catch it before it’s gone.
After the Fall is playing at Withycombe Hall main stage at OSU, with remaining performances on Thursday, Nov. 21 and Friday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m.
by Ygal Kaufman