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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the August 18, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: ‘After The Fall’

After The Fall" may not one of Arthur Miller’s greatest plays, but it

is provocative. More importantly, the worthy revival by the Roundabout

Theater Company at the American Airlines Theater, under Michael

Mayer’s splendid direction, suddenly appears to examine the

exploratory nature of one of America’s most lauded playwrights,

perhaps more precisely and concisely that it did 40 years ago – or

even 20 years ago. The original 1964 production starred Jason Robards

Jr. as Quentin, the Miller character. In a 1984 revival, the role was

played by Frank Langella.

Apparently shortened and tweaked by the playwright in the revival and

again for this production, under Mayer’s guidance, the play remains

both invigoratingly direct and relentlessly verbose. It is also lifted

off the runway to a large part through the genius of set designer

Richard Hoover’s abstracted replication of Saarinen’s TWA lounge at

Idlewild Airport, its silvery grey-on-grey tones conveying the open

and active place of platforms and walkways for those travelers

entering and exiting Quentin’s subconscious way station.

After a rough start, which is mostly notable for the number of

psychologically damaging women (curiously remindful of the women who

affect Fellini’s alter-ego Guido in "Nine") who weave in and out of

Quentin’s mind as emotional catalysts, the play is absolutely

compelling when it more substantially settles into the emotionally

wrenching details about Miller’s own stormy, frustrating marriage to

film star Marilyn Monroe.

The Monroe character is no longer a blonde. As played by Carla Gugino,

in her Broadway debut, Maggie is a red-headed singer stunningly

characteristic of the disturbed woman who would lure Miller into

marriage. Gugino plays Maggie with a vulnerability propelled by

ferocity that virtually challenges this otherwise autobiographical

self purge for dramatic supremacy.

Of course, this imbalance could also be due to Peter Krause’s largely

introspective and conservative performance, as Quentin, now a lawyer.

Although Krause, best known as Nate Fisher in the HBO series "Six Feet

Under," (and also making his Broadway debut) doesn’t wow us with a

wide variety of emotional swings, he nevertheless sustains the complex

character by revealing to us the sheer strength of Miller’s

impregnable, or is it indomitable, ego in a series of unquestionably

self-serving soliloquies.

However, the incendiary and physically violent scene in which the

emotionally needy, but unquestionably nutty, Maggie provokes Quentin

to the breaking point is a stunner and as dramatically unnerving as

anything you are likely to see on the stage this season. It also

provides the opportunity for Krause to shed his character’s sedate and

self-contained intellectual detachment and to respond more

instinctively and explosively to Maggie’s hysteria.

The secondary, but never inconsequential, characters – parents, first

wife, cohorts – are, in the main, irrefutable irritants to Quentin.

But luckily these irritants are given idiosyncratic life and dimension

by a terrific supporting cast. Although the authenticity of her German

accent comes and goes, Vivienne Benesche is otherwise fine as Holga,

the archeologist with a troubled past who has rekindled Quentin’s

romantic feelings. It is while waiting for Holga to see if this time

will be different that Quentin’s hallucinations take over.

In subtle ways, Jessica Hecht distills all the vinegar from Quentin’s

insecure first wife, Louise. Candy Buckley is chilling as the "mother

from hell." Other performances of note are given by Mark Nelson and

Jonathan Walker, as friends caught up in the infamous government witch

hunt for communists. As expected, Donald Holder’s lighting has its own

flashes of inspiration, as does Michael Krass’s costumes, which know

when to make eye-opening changes from the ordinary.

Although self consciously steeped in memories, flashbacks, and streams

of consciousness, "After the Fall" maintains a deliberately "me,

myself, and I" ideology that, were it not truly about Miller, an

artist worthy of self portrait, would be the height of indulgent

pomposity. Turning inward has not been an unusual path for playwrights

from Shakespeare to Ibsen to O’Neill to Williams.

While Miller’s focus on social and political issues in such plays as

"All My Sons," "Death of a Salesman," and "The Crucible" are employed

as conventionally crafted plays, one has to respect a great dramatist

who explores new forms and ways to express his own intellectual and

emotional growth.

It doesn’t take us long, however, to realize how carefully and

insightfully Mayer has captured the essence of this difficult, if

indisputably flawed, play and made it memorable.

– Simon Saltzman

After The Fall, Roundabout Theater Company at the

American Airlines Theater, 227 West 42nd Street. For tickets ($46.25

to $86.25), Call 212-719-1300.

an Airlines Theater, 227 West 42nd Street. For tickets ($46.25

to $86.25), Call 212-719-1300.

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