While at college (ironically enough, I am spending the weekend in Athens) I took a seminar my junior year on Arthur Miller. It's where I learned to dislike him. A few gems notwithstanding, by being forced to read most of his plays, I discovered (at the age of 20) a man of marginal talent with a penchant for unrealistic dialogue who said the same thing over and over again.
Then there's that thing about self-flagellation.
In addition, I was exposed to reams and reams of paper spent - by the playwright - defending whatever it was he intended to say in his works that most of the public hadn't understood.
For the past six years, my time as an actor-teacher for Great Lakes has included dedicated study to two of Miller's works, Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. In that time I have decided that his "greatest" work - Salesman - is about as unwatchable as I ever thought it was, and that Crucible will not only stand the test of time, but is possibly one of the best American works ever produced. Salesman is lucky to have made it sixty years, Crucible will still be performed in five hundred.
In preparartion for this season's production of Crucible at GLTF, I read Miller's autobiography Timebends which my boss, Daniel, gave me last Christmas. And I enjoyed it. Walking around in his shoes, understanding the entire expanse of his life, I had a better understanding for the worlds of his plays, the worlds of his essays, the world of him.
Because I believe it is inevitable, if you have the facts, when you know what a person has lived through, you can so much better understand the decisions they make and their personal philosophy - even if you do not agree with it. Understanding is key.
Unless they lie.
On Thursday I read this in the New York Times:
"Arthur Miller, who died in February 2005, and his third wife, the photographer Inge Morath, had a son born with Down syndrome in 1966. Soon after, they made the painful decision to put the child, Miller’s youngest, in an institution for the mentally retarded before Miller essentially cut him out of his life.
"... Miller rarely, if ever, accompanied his wife on weekly visits to see (his son), almost never mentioned him to shocked friends and didn’t mention him in his memoir, “Timebends.”
Now, see, I don't know what to do with that information. It is not merely that I find that appalling, but it means that once again I need to reverse-engineer what I think of Arthur Miller.
Daniel and I were having a conversation in the lobby last spring about Crucible and he was sharing how a professor his his was just so frustrated with Miller in the work. The argument was that if only there was no adultery in it, this piece would be universally accepted as a masterpiece. But Miller ruins it, and all of his work, by making his heroes so deeply flawed.
Maybe Miller just couldn't see how anyone could be any different.