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September 08, 1999 - Image 35

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-09-08

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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 - The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - 3C

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It's

Suddenly, Arthur Miller's all the rage.
Throughout the past two weeks,
scores of articles and reviews have
appeared, splashed across the pages of The
New York Times, The New Yorker and
Time Magazine, among others. While the
prompting of such attention can be attrib-
uted to the recent Broadway revival of
"Death of Salesman" - the 50th anniver-
sary production -there is a certain sense
of Miller nostalgia taking place in the Ann
Arbor wing of the theater world.
Joining the recent blooming of Miller fervor,
two University groups presented productions of
"The Crucible" and "All My Sons" last semester.
The School of Music's department of musical the-
ater performed a studio production of "The
Crucible" in February, and UAC's Rude
Mechanicals will set the Mendelssohn stage with
post-WWII trauma in March when they high-
lighted the tragedy-stricken lives of Joe Keller and
his family in "All My Sons."
Possibly sparking the interest in Miller's works
are plans for the University's Arthur Miller
Theater. Although no definite details can be con-
firmed, the edifice is expected to begin construc-
tion by autumn of 2000. Last fall, an English lit-
erature course titled "The Stages of Arthur
Miller" was offered for the first time in the depart-
ment's curriculum. Prof. Enoch Brater described
it as "the first of its kind, ever, in the world."
It seems that Arthur Miller, the greatest living
American playwright, is making his way home.
The University's most famous and intriguing
alumnus, Miller is also the world's most produced
playwright, beating out William Shakespeare. He
began his writing career while under the guidance
of University theater professor Kenneth Thorpe
Rowe before graduating with an English literature
degree in 1938. His first big success didn't come
until 1947 when "All My Sons" gave him a name
and a pocketbook.
The playwright is known for his tragic drama,
unique to the American theater because of its
insistence upon a common human realism - his
plays don't entertain as much as they provoke an
1 audience to cast some self-doubt and personal
examination. He was a student of the Ibsen style
of play writing, one in which the common man is
subjected to heightened downfalls and personal
tragedies. He is an American playwright
because he, in his own words: "is a Darwinian
who had learned to expect no mercy
(although he might still secretly hope for a lit-
tle)."
But there are no heroes in Arthur Miller's
dramas. There are no definite antagonists
and protagonists, save society itself In
"Death of a Salesman," Willy Loman
cannot be blamed for his personal
failures, but neither can his son,
Biff. One question that arises in
this and many other of Miller's
works is "Who is to take respon-
sibility? Who is at fault?" The two
groups of students who are pre-
senting "The Crucible" and "All
My Sons" will attempt to answer
those questions.
Witches' Brew
"The Crucible" examines the
witch trials of Salem, Mass. near the
end of the 17th Century. Miller con-
centrates on the moral reasoning for
such a horrific event by brilliantly
recreating the lives of the women and
men who caused such spiritual commo-
tion. Written in 1953 during Joe
McCarthy's House Committee on Un- .
American Activities hearings, "The
Crucible" was Miller's artistic throwback

Chris Tkaczyk Daily Arts Write
to the paranoia surrounding a too conservative
American government. After appearing before the
committee numerous times to defend himself of
purported Communist activities, Miller used his
pen - the greatest weapon - to confront the
silly attacks.
The citizens of 17th Century Salem were sec-
ond generation Calvinists, a religious breed
whose beliefs rested solely on a strict interpreta-
tion of an already too-structured theology.
Abigail, the inflamed anti-heroine of "The
Crucible," engages in a love affair with Goodman
John Proctor, a local farmer. When Abigail is
thrown out of the Proctor stead by justifiably jeal-
ous Good Wife Proctor, Abby seeks to destroy
them through false accusations of witchcraft and
black magic.
"He doesn't see the societal responsibility in
himself I think a lot of people today would weigh
on their shoulders the decision he made. He expe-
riences a moment of truth that very rarely strikes
any of us'" Music junior Robert Rokicki said of
John Proctor, the character he portrayed in the
show.
The decision to perform "The Crucible" was
made by theater and drama Prof. Philip Kerr, who
presented the idea to musical theater department
chair Brent Wagner. "I thought we should do
something by Miller because we haven't done
anything by him in such a long time," Kerr said.
This production of "The Crucible" marked the
musical theater department's third such non-musi-
cal play to be-directed by Kerr. Three years ago
brought Ai Roth's "Born Guilty" to the
Trueblood Theater. Two years ago,"A
Midsummer Night's Dream" played to packed
houses, who enjoyed the cross-gendered casting
in a rich production full of feather boas and heavy
metal. The purpose inpresenting a non-musical
play is to give the students a chance to hone their
acting skills in a production that concentrates
solely on the acting. "This production (of "The
Crucible") is not a workshop. It's a full-blooded
production," Kerr said.
Kerr made some slight alterations to the script,
giving new motivation for much of the play's
action. Having cut the character of Tituba, the
female Caribbean slave, entirely out of the play,
Kerr believes that more focus will be placed on
the brainwashed
ways of the
S a I c m
society
-no
partic-
u I a r
person
can be
blamed
for the
evil that is
incurred.
"There's
a sharper
focus on
the girls
just dancing
for the fun
of it -
Abby takes
it onto her-
self to dance.
I've given
most of
T i t u b a 's
lines to
Sarah Good,
4who I've
featured a
bit more
prominent-
ly" Kerr
said.

Music senior Anna Gleichauf, who portrayed
Abby in the show, agreed with Kerr's decision to
'omit Tituba from the play.
"It is important because it takes out ofthe show
a huge scapegoat. The play is not about one per-
son accepting blame. Having Tituba in the play
makes it a hard task for the audience because,
truly, everyone's at fault," Gleichauf said.
Like many of the other women in Salem,
Goody Good is displaced in a society where
everyone is suspicious of unmarried women. She
and the rest of the accused are innocent victims of
an environment where personal identity doesn't
figure as prominently as group think.
"The entire cast is a historical figure. (In this
production) everyone has a personal identity -
it's not just a chorus. It's a very layered piece - a
wittier, mightier play than one might think. Even
Miller's catalyst in creating it came from the late
'40s. We haven't lost any of its edge," Kerr
explained.
Kerr described the play as a morality play
because it asks more questions than it provides
answers.
"He doesn't let you off. Miller's unrelenting"
Kerr said.
Additionally, Kerr decided to omit the second
scene from the second act - an occurrence not
rare to many other "Crucible" productions. The
passionate scene features a moment in the woods
where Abigail's and John's tryst is confirmed, at
least, through their lustful conversation and cli-
mactic bout. The romantic interlude, which was
performed in the original Broadway production,
was omitted by Miller in the published version of
the play, and hasn't been performed subsequent to
the Broadway revival at the Martinique Theater in
1958. Kerr doesn't find the scene adding any-
thing to the play.
"I thought it was quite a mistake. Since then, it's
rarely done. It burdens the play and takes it down
the Post-Freudian spectacle. I think we know what
Abby feels and what John Proctor feels without
having seen it," Kerr stated.
Gleichauf finds the main tension of the play in
society's denial of personal freedom.
"What is sacrificed - what ends up being
ruined is the people's right to freedom - the right
to be unjudged because it's a society that attacks
people's self expression," Gleichauf explained.
"Miller's plays strike a chord with so many people
because he writes about humans with flaws. He's
not afraid of showing imperfect people. All of
these characters have flaws that all of us have."
Music junior Maclain Looper, who portrayed
Rev. John Hale in "The Crucible," finds Miller's
work to be inspiring because "every character he
writes about takes a huge journey." Looper
believes the play to be an American classic
because of its subject matter. "It's an image of
what America is, then and now," he said.
Agreeing with Looper's vision of the play's
timelessness is Music senior Patricia Lavery, who
portrays Goody Proctor. "'The Crucible' is time-
less because it's happening now Americans have
a hard time refraining from judging their neigh-
bors. In this society we all know each other. The
play is about our envy and our greed," Lavery
said.
Kerr explained, "It's a big play - it's a tragedy.
It reads like a detective story. As it gets more
assembled, it gets more horrific. It's important
because it has another resonance in our own time.
It's a play about society run amok."
Love and War Profiteering
Miller's first Broadway success was the family
drama "All My Sons" a play about war profiteer-
ing and its efdects upon a guilty conscience.
!t is one of Miller's most structured plays 4nd is
full of rife political commentary and a sometimes
too-perfect series of events. When it first
appeared on Broadway in 1947, the U.S. govern-

Photos by ADRIANA YUGOVICH/Daiy
ABOVE: Samantha Raddock gazes adoringly at Gabe Bumstein before their onstage kiss. BELOW: Jef
Cozza and Gabe Bumstein rehearse a scene from "All My Sons."

ment labeled it as nothing more than Communist
propaganda.
But the Communist party in the United States
denied any support of Miller, saying that his plays
were anti-society. "For example, I had realized
long ago what was behind the Communists' dis-
approval of "Salesman" and "All My Sons:" their
success and critical acceptance had thrown doubt
on the shibboleth that American theater could not,
and theoretically should not be able to, support
socially truthful plays," Miller wrote in 1987.
Of "All My Sons," Miller stated, "As always the
world and I were full of problems, but "All My
Sons" had exhausted my lifelong interest in the
Greco-Ibsen form, in the particular manner in
which I had come to think of it."
In the play, Joe Keller, an aging Midwesterner
who is fast-approaching retirement, lives each day
with a shadow of guilt. During World War II, his
airplane parts factory shipped an order of defec-
tive O-rings to the government, which later
caused the death of many young soldiers, possibly
including that of his eldest son, Larry, whose
plane was lost at war. Joe's other son, Chris,
begins courting Annie, his late brother's girlfriend,
who comes to visit with the intention of becoming
engaged. Kate Keller, Joe's wife, refuses to
believe that Larry has died, hoping that he
remains alive somewhere as a prisoner of war, if
not stranded in some remote place. Annie's father,
who used to live next door to the Kellers, was the
business partner that took the blame for the defec-
tive equipment, and is serving time in prison as a
result.
But the focus of the play is not entirely
American; war profiteering is not strictly an
American game. Following a 1977 performance
of "All My Sons" in Jerusalem, the late prime
minister of Israel, Yitzak Rabin, said, "Because
this is a problem in Israel - boys are out there
day and night dying in planes and on the ground,
and back here people are making a lot of money.
So it might as well be an Israeli play."
LSA senior Adam Weiner, director of "All My
Sons," chose to produce the play partially because
not much Miller is produced on campus, and par-
tially because he wanted to produce a modem
American classic.
"Not many people have seen or read "All My
Sons."
With all the attention Miller is getting recently,
I thought this was the perfect opportunity expose
the University to a hidden gem. Personally, this
play is my favorite of Miller's. With "Salesman".
on Broadway again and "A View from the
Bridge" taking the Tony award for last year's
Broadway production, I thought is was time for

attention to be paid to his others works," Weiner
said.
One of the largest factors in the guilt that
plagues the Keller household are the roles of the
female characters, Annie and Kate. LSA senior
Jef Cozza, who portrays Joe Keller in this pro-
duction, sees Annie as being slightly responsible
for Joe's guilt. "Annie says things that build up
Joe's confidence," Cozza said.
"But as Joe states in the play: 'I ignore what
I've got to ignore,' he's indicating his own fault!'
Cozza explained. "He's very vocal about exoner-
ating Larry in Annie's eyes."
As for Joe's reaction to Kate's blindness, Cozza
believes he's silent because she covers for him.
"She shares his secret (concerning the defective
rings). He doesn't want to dredge up the truth
about his guilt as much as she wants to dredge up
the truth about Larry's death," Cozza said. Miller
once wrote of the hidden truth of the play: '"
longed for a way to deliver onto the stage all the
raw complexity I felt swirling within me. The
problem with "All My Sons" was not that it was
too realistic but that it left too little space and time
for the wordless darkness that underlies all verbal
truth.
"Joe says things that he knows people don't
want to hear," Weiner added. "It's part of his moral
blindness. He thinks everyone has forgiven him.
He's a boss - he's used to being obeyed," Weiner
said.
This presentation of "All My Sons" is charging
the energy of its cast, who find great treasure in
the ability to perform Miller's art. "This is as good
as it gets!' explained LSA sophomore Gabe
Burnstein, who portrays Chris. "This is to an actor
what the Rose Bowl is to a quarterback. It's not
often that you get to act in an Arthur Miller play,"
"Miller's still with us. He's a master of
American drama in the 20th Century," Weiner
added. "Knowing that he's out there and still writ-
ing - that's very special. It all starts and ends
with him," he said.
Arthur Miller Onstage
In the autobiography "Timebends," Miller
wrote of the American theater: "In the sense that
we lack any real awareness of a continuity with
the past, we are, I think, a country without a the-
ater culture.
"I - as only one example - have gone
through years when my plays were being per-
formed in half a dozen countries but not in New
York ... I seemed to have been 'revived' when in
fact I had only been invisible in my own land."
Mr. Miller, you're not invisible, here or any-
where.

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