Into the Heart of Arthur Miller

millerproject

Into the Heart of Arthur Miller

by Paige Listerud

It seems like only yesterday we started The Arthur Miller Project. Back in November, TimeLine Theatre was finishing up with All My Sons and Raven Theatre had extended its hit production of Death of a Salesman. I still marveled at the line-up of Arthur Miller works being produced through the 2009-2010 season. To the best of my knowledge, an opportunity like this–to grasp the breadth of Miller’s drama, live, in a single season–is unprecedented, even for a world-class theater city like Chicago. You don’t have to be a theater geek to appreciate what a break it is to see an American master like Miller done comprehensively, and done well, in the course of a year.

Plus, it happened this way without anyone planning it. No theater company coordinated with any other to produce seven Miller plays across the city. They are still not coordinating with each other, not even for advertising purposes–unlike TimeLine, Remy Bumppo, and Court Theatre’s promotional collaboration, Fugard Chicago 2010. In fact, Infamous Commonwealth, TimeLine, and Raven Theatre bid against each other for the rights to produce All My Sons–much to the bewilderment of Miller’s estate, according to Eclipse Theatre’s Artistic Director Nathaniel Swift.

Well, for some reason Arthur Miller is in the Chicago theater community’s headlights this year. Companies needed and wanted to dig into Miller’s canon. When they couldn’t get All My Sons they moved on, not to another playwright but to another Miller play.

So April is here, Easter is upon us; the spring Chicago theater season is about to burst into full glory. Infamous Commonwealth Theatre opened The Crucible last week (see our review) and Eclipse Theatre started its previews of Resurrection Blues on March 25. You can see our interview with Infamous Commonwealth’s Chris Maher and Craig Thompson below. Video of Eclipse Theatre’s theater artists and events are to come.

We hope you’ve warmed up nicely from seeing TimeLine and Raven Theatre’s productions last fall—find our interviews with their directors below.

Covering everything Eclipse Theatre has planned for its Arthur Miller season could be a project in and of itself. But then its mission, unique in the Midwest, is to concentrate upon one playwright per season, supplementing fully mounted plays with further explorations of the playwright’s work in a series of intimate readings and discussions. Eclipse selected Miller’s lesser-done plays Resurrection Blues, After the Fall and A Memory of Two Mondays for full-scale production. As in previous seasons, Eclipse will also employ directors, actors, scholars and dramaturges to enhance their subscribers’ introduction to other Arthur Miller works. It’s all part of the subscription–although, for a suggested donation, non-subscribers can also join in the journey to the heart of Arthur Miller.

If sneak peaks are any indication, that journey will be substantial.

arthur-miller2 First up in Eclipse’s Playwright Scholar Series is a staged reading of Miller’s first full-length play written in 1944, The Man Who Had All The Luck. Held Saturday, April 10, at 2 pm at the Greenhouse Theater Center, the play has the kind of protagonist who reads like the photographic negative of Willy Loman. David Beeves acquires success in every area of his personal and professional life, regardless of the obstacles. “But his good fortune merely serves to reveal the tragedies of those around him in greater relief, offering evidence of a capricious god or, worse, a godless, arbitrary universe.” I guess there are two kinds of tragedies in life: one is never getting what you want and the other is getting it. While we are familiar with the former in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a work like The Man Who Had All the Luck explicitly shows the playwright delving into the latter.

Swift, who also directs Resurrection Blues this season, particularly looks forward to discussing the theme of “being liked”—the proverbial American need to be liked—running through both plays.

Other Arthur Miller treats:

The Homely Girl, A Life—Eclipse has been contemplating a workshop on a stage adaptation of this Miller novella. At last notice, acquiring rights from the estate were still a little sticky. Stay tuned.

Enemy of the People—discussion will compare Miller’s adaptation to Ibsen’s original work. Hopefully, discussion will resonate with Eclipse’s upcoming production of After the Fall in July and Infamous Commonwealth’s The Crucible going on right now. All three have to do with Miller going before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

A View from the Bridge—readings from the original one-act version and songs from the opera version. Just this January, Gregory Mosher, once head of the Goodman Theatre, revived this little Miller classic on Broadway with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson. In a thousand ways, this tense tale of incest and domestic violence just keeps turning up. Its blue-collar atmosphere may enhance Eclipse’s last play of the season, A Memory of Two Mondays.

arthur-miller-marilyn-monroe The Misfits—a reading of the screenplay and discussion of Miller’s life and writing. Marilyn Monroe was with Miller all through HUAC and starred in this, her last completed film, screenplay written by Miller. The shooting of the film was the site of their marriage’s demise. Miller’s last play, Finishing the Picture, depicts the making of The Misfits.

Swift doesn’t mind not getting All My Sons for Eclipse’s season. While a famous Miller blockbuster definitely would bring in more revenue, focusing on lesser-known Arthur Miller works better fits their mission to cover the full arc of a playwright’s career. “Our focus is largely dramaturgical,” says Swift, “to ask how these works resonate–especially now. Not to compete with other companies.” Other companies covering Arthur Miller simply give more context to what Eclipse is doing.

Chuck Spencer blew me away,” says Swift, regarding Raven Theatre’s Death of a Salesman. “I’m looking forward to seeing Incident At Vichy at Redtwist Theatre. A bunch of people are thrown into the same room and it builds terrifyingly with the realization of how bad it’s going to get.”

I’m anticipating how good it’s all going to get, show by show, event by event. Please join us, here and at the theater.


For all YouTube interviews, click on “Read more”


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Review: Raven Theatre’s “Death of a Salesman”

 Salesman chippies: Devon Candura, Greg Caldwell, Alexis Atwill, Jason Huysman, Chuck Spencer

Raven Theatre presents:

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller
directed by Michael Menendian
thru December 5th (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Perusing Raven Theatre’s season this year, you get the impression they are playing it pretty safe. The three plays in their season are 20th-Century American classics, and all have become community theater staples. They kick off with Arthur Miller’s Death of Saleman, follow that with Reginald Rose’s courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men, and serve up Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple for desert. Not a particularly daring season. With such well-known fare, Raven must face the challenge of proving these plays can still be invigorating even though the audience have probably seen them a couple of times already. If they can maintain the success of their opener, Miller’s 1949 masterpiece, they’ll prove that these familiar plays still have a lot of mileage left in them.

Right from the start of the show, I was reminded how different the American brand of realism is compared to its European counterpart. While dramatic geniuses like Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill were drawing stylistic inspiration from traditional realists like Chekhov and Ibsen, they also reveled in theatricality. Death of a Salesman, for instance, presents a very feasible and realistic story juxtaposed with scenes illustrating the delirium and fuzzy memories of a decaying mind. By intertwining the realistic and the psychological, Miller suggests the American dream doesn’t amount to much more than a mass delusion.

 

Salesman cards: Chuck Spencer, Jerry Bloom, Ron Quade Salesman dress: Susie Griffith, Chuck Spencer

Director Michael Menendian makes clear that he both respects Miller’s text but isn’t afraid to do some tinkering. While Kimberly Senior’s All My Sons refused to take risks, Menendian and his team embrace Miller’s stylized vision. Andrei Onegin’s moveable set creates all of the varied settings required, from a two-story house to a restaurant to an office. The machinations of Willy Loman’s mind are nicely emphasized by Amy Lee’s lights. Menendian helps both of them out by exploring the entire space with his staging. All sections of the audience get good views; sometimes characters even invade the house. By not falling into a proscenium trap, Menendian confirms that the 60-year-old piece is as engaging as any of this season’s world-premiers.

Menendian’s choices wouldn’t mean anything, though, if the casting wasn’t superb. The success of a production of Salesman more or less depends on the quality of the actor portraying Willy. Fortunately for all involved, Chuck Spencer is completely tuned to Miller’s text. He is simultaneously charming, vindictive, unstable, yet feeble. We visibly witness Willy’s mind breaking apart as his hopes collapse around him. Most of these hopes are for Biff, whose restlessness, passion, and self-loathing are captured by Jason Huysman. Greg Caldwell’s Happy is a slimy and callous “other son.” Caldwell makes it clear that Hap, although he doesn’t seem to be aware, is following in his father’s delusional footsteps towards self-destruction. The weakest performance of the bunch is Joann Montemurro’s matriarchal Linda. It takes a few scenes for her to key in with the rest of the ensemble. Once that happens, though, she can be as devastating as anyone else in this “common man’s tragedy.” The pace of the piece stays at a gallop and the cast skillfully pulls off the frenzied energy needed for Willy’s nostalgic hallucinations. The only other issue of note is that the actors become too physical with each other too fast. This dissipates the enormous tension of Miller’s words; the impassioned grappling and grabbing that come into almost every scene would have a better effect if saved up for a few hyper-intense moments.

In writing Salesman, Miller wanted to toss out the Aristotelian notion that tragedy could only involve kings and royalty (Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear). He shows us through Willy Loman that even the middle-class can have tragic flaws. Instead of a vast kingdom, however, it is single household that is torn asunder. And just like we can be moved by Euripides and Shakespeare today, Raven’s crushing production verifies that Miller’s opus is still terrifyingly resonant.

 

Rating: «««½

 

Salesman punch: Kevin Hope, Jason Huysman, Chuck Spencer, Greg Caldwell

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Theater Thursday: “Death of a Salesman” at Raven Theatre

Thursday, October 15

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

at the Raven Theatre

6157 N. Clark St., Chicago

raven-deathThis week’s Theater Thursday event will offer free drinks and light appetizers before the show as well as a talk-back with the actors and crew following the production.Willy Loman, Miller’s quintessential Everyman, is a traveling salesman who spends his entire life chasing a dream driven by his misguided mantra, "Be liked and you will never want". After years of pouring all his energy and resources into his older son Biff, whom he is convinced will rise to greatness with his Adonis-like features and athletic prowess, Willy is faced with the crushing realization of the utter failure of his pursuit for a better life.  One late spring night Willy returns to his Brooklyn home from an aborted sales trip to New England, and over the course of the next 24 hours Arthur Miller takes us on a journey through the past and present of a man whose life is reeling beyond his control.
Event begins at 7:30 p.m.
Show begins at 8 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY: $25
For reservations call 773.338.2177 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

Review: Creative Arts Foundation’s “Pill Hill”

Testing the Bonds of Brotherhood in Sam Kelley’s  “Pill Hill”

 "Pill Hill", by Sam Kelley, now playing at eta Creative Arts Foundation

The award winning eta Creative Arts Foundation wraps up its 38th season with a sterling production of Sam Kelley’s Pill Hill, a play that explores the journeys of 6 Chicago steel mill workers trying to realize economic and social success. Director Aaron Todd Douglas has honed his actors into a taut and dynamic ensemble. His direction shines at its best when it contrasts the vital camaraderie that unites these African American men with the unspoken truths, rationalizations, and false aspirations that throw each character into isolation.

Pill Hill is the black upper-class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side where these men aspire to live one day as a sign that they have “made it.” As some take their first tentative steps away from the steel mill, others get left behind—Charlie, the senior member of the group, who has worked there since migrating to Chicago from the South and Joe, who cannot bear to turn away from a sure paycheck, even though the mill inexorably grinds him down. Kelley’s play examines the toll that success takes on friendship, while acknowledging that the price of doing nothing is certainly just as high.

There is much to be said about Kelley’s keen eye on friendships between the men of Pill Hill. Most of that dynamic plays out between Joe (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) and Eddie (Anthony Peeples), in the crucible of their desire for a better life. Much as they both share their dreams of getting out of the mill and onto the Hill, more goes unsaid between them about the limits of their friendship when the stagnation of one strains against the overwhelming success of the other.

Indeed, the whole cast, under Douglas’s watchful direction, construct nuanced relationships between their characters, where what is not said matters as much as what is. Therefore, much is made about Joe’s need to move on from mill work, but silence surrounds his encroaching alcoholism; Scott (Cecil Burroughs) gets to revel in his glory days as a prospective football player, but no one confronts him about his descent into drug sales once his potential truly dries up; the guys remark frequently on Tony’s (Corey Spruill) natural abilities as a salesman, but none question his growing lack of a moral center.

Attention, as well as praise, must be paid to the most riveting monologue of the production, delivered by David Adams, as Charlie. It is critical to the play. It grounds it in the recognition that success can never be as simple to African Americans as it is for whites. Success for African Americans bears the awful burden of reflecting full-fledged personhood and first-class citizenship. Tragically, material success may also dangerously expose a black man as being “too uppity.” Charlie relates the time that Southern police officers pulled him over for the crime of driving his new Cadillac around his old hometown. After they have terrorized and humiliated him in front of his family, Charlie drives back to Chicago and puts the Cadillac up on blocks, not to be driven again, until a new sheriff has taken over, years later. Obviously, having more than white bigots think you deserve can get you into as much trouble as having nothing.

While having it all and having nothing contend most dramatically between Joe and Eddie, it’s the internal struggle between the two that wreaks the most havoc with Eddie’s soul. Eddie is the greatest achiever of the group, breaking the glass ceiling as the first black lawyer of a prestigious Chicago law firm. He becomes the group’s living symbol of promise and hope. But one almost wishes Eddie could be a little less successful, but a little more content, as is dear, henpecked Al (Kevin Hope). Peeple’s Eddie is ready to crack under the burden of it all—the success, the compromise that success demands of him, and especially, the childlike adulation of Joe, who is already so broken, no attempt can be made to hide it. Something has got to give. The showdown between Joe and Eddie is searing and unforgettable.

It is my hope that theatergoers who are familiar with the north side will head south to see this magnificent production. Douglas and cast strike the right balance between playfulness and tension, humor and anger, yearning, helplessness, and hope. While some dialogue may be stilted, Sam Kelley’s work truly ranks with other dramas that critique the American Dream, like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Whatever its limits, this play examines something that the previous two works do not. It explores the modern day tests that are put to an African American brotherhood that is, all at once, flawed, endangered, compassionate, and powerful.

Rating:  ««««

Pill Hill runs through August 9th, at the eta Creative Arts Foundation, located at 7558 S Chicago Avenue.  For more info and tickets, call (773) 752-3955.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00 P.M.
Sunday at 3:00 P.M. & 7:00 P.M.

 

For more info regarding eta Creative Arts, click on “Read more”

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Timeline Theatre Announces 2009-2010 Season

Timeline-Logo

TIMELINE THEATRE COMPANY
ANNOUNCES 2009-10 SEASON

ALL MY SONS
by
Arthur Miller
directed by
Kimberly Senior
August 31 – October 4, 2009 (previews 8/27 – 8/30)
Praised along with Death of a Salesman and The Crucible as Miller’s masterpieces, this 1947 Tony Award winner for Best Play returns to the Chicago stage for the first time since an acclaimed Broadway revival last season. A middle-class American family struggles to deal with the loss of one son during World War II and the desire of another son to now marry his brother’s fiancé. As family members and those closest to them try to move forward, an explosive secret from the father’s past threatens to unravel everyone’s hopes for happiness. This powerful drama is a haunting exploration of business ethics and one’s moral responsibility to the larger community.

WHEN SHE DANCED
by Martin Sherman
directed by Nick Bowling

Travel to the Paris of 1923 for this gorgeous and incredibly funny portrait of legendary dancer Isadora Duncan. The so-called mother of modern dance is desperate to keep herself financially solvent and to realize her dream for retirement: a school in Italy to teach young dancers her art. Through a multi-lingual script of great heart and appeal, Sherman mixes the high comedy of a colorful cast of characters with a poignant view of the importance of the arts to move and inspire us. Through the eyes of those in Duncan’s life we glimpse her greatness and how she touched so many lives when she danced.

‘MASTER HAROLD’ … AND THE BOYS
by Athol Fugard
directed by Jonathan Wilson

Recipient of a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 1982, ’Master Harold’ … and the Boys is considered Athol Fugard’s masterpiece, valued for both its universal themes of humanity and its skilled theater craft. Set in South Africa during the 1950s era of apartheid, it depicts how institutionalized racism can become absorbed by those who live under it. A white 17-year-old spends time with two African workers he has known all his life, and through their conversations on one rainy day we see what unites and divides them. The play’s beautiful and haunting dialogue and message of hope also inspire the recognition that there is much work to be done to bring people of different races together.

THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION
Chicago premiere
by Aaron Sorkin
directed by Nick Bowling

From the creator of A Few Good Men and The West Wing comes this fascinating new play direct from Broadway. It’s the story of two ambitious visionaries — Philo T. Farnsworth, an Idaho farmboy, and David Sarnoff, head of RCA — battling each other for the rights to one of the greatest inventions of all time: the television. Through corporate espionage, family tragedy, financial disaster and the thrill of discovery, these two larger-than-life men compete for fame and credit and become part of a decision that would change America, and eventually the world.

A fourth play and the season’s schedule are still to be announced.

Says TimeLine Artistic Director PJ Powers:

“We have put together a season filled with bold ideas and tremendous heart and hope and guts.  Through a steadfast commitment to our mission, TimeLine aspires to be a place for people to come together, to feel a sense of community and to engage in a dialogue about our place in history. The work on our stage allows audiences to lose themselves in a story from the past in order to perhaps better understand where we are today and where we might go tomorrow. During our 2009-10 season, we look forward to exploring some defining moments of the 20th Century together — moments of art and beauty, of friendship and understanding, and of innovation and exploration.”

Creative team biographies after the fold.

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Today in History – 60 years ago: Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” opens on Broadway

aruthurmiller On February 10th, 1949, Arthur Miller‘s classic American play Death of a Salesman opened at Broadway’s Morosco Theater.  This world-premier production of Death of a Salesman, directed by Elia Kazan with Lee J. Cobb starring in the leading role, ran for the astounding length of 742 performances.

Often considered the penultimate American play (and making both Arthur Miller and the character Willy Loman household names), Death of a Salesman went on to win the following awards:

  • 1949 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play
  • 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • 1949 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1984 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival
  • 1984 Tony Award for Best Reproduction
  • 1999 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
  • 1999 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Play

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