Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who, then, can be believed?

Playwright Arthur Miller, toward the center wearing the tuxedo, is on stage with the cast members of a 1999 revival of his play, "Death of a Salesman," at the Eugene O'Neill Theater. The play opened on Broadway in 1949, and has been a fixture in American theater since that time. Miller was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his drama.

Flexible, imaginative & innovative = ??

I simply asked him if he was making any money.
Is that a criticism?

Willy Loman

in Arthur Miller's
"Death of a Salesman"

My resume always has proclaimed me to be flexible, imaginative and innovative, which is to say without actually saying it, unorthodox. How much that might be true is in the eye of the beholder.

Once upon a time, my unorthodox journalistic existence included coordinating production of a weekly arts and entertainment section. I wrote a bit, but mostly assigned newspaper staff members and free lance writers, photographers and artists to produce elements such as reviews and critiques of books, motion pictures, plays, concerts and recordings, as well as interviews with the authors, artists and performers who created these works. Then, it became my task to turn these items into a page or two or three of dazzling data that would attract readers and draw their applause and cries of encore.

In deference to full disclosure, another of my weekly tasks was to coordinate production of a weekly outdoors section, which centered on hunting and fishing. At times, in addition to being flexible, imaginative and innovative, I also have been my own strange bedfellow. In any event …. to continue:

A few posts on other blogs, in addition to some recent events in my personal life, have gotten me to thinking about books, films, the theater, music and the role of the critic in examining these phenomena.

Among the gimmicks my innovative soul created was to assign three individuals, when it was feasible, to review and critique the same book or film or stage production or concert. They were, of course, pledged not to discuss their assessment until their finished work had been turned in to me.

To add still another aspect to this assignment, the three individuals would come from varying backgrounds. For instance, those whose task it was to review a college/university stage production might include a student from the university; a middle-aged woman who was a homemaker and mother first and a writer second, and who had community theater experience; and a man who ordinarily covered sports and had never been to a live theater production in his life.

It was educational and a great deal of fun to read their finished products -- at least, I thought so.

On one occasion, the newspaper received a letter from a person who could only be described as angry with my style of assigning reviewers. In brief, the letter writer complained that after reading three very disparate reviews of a college production of Arthur Miller's masterpiece, "Death of a Salesman," he was unable to decide if he wanted to attend the performance himself or not.

"What are you trying to do, confuse the reader?" he chided. "At that, you have certainly succeeded. I don't know which reviewer to believe."

So much for flexible, imaginative and innovative ....

A few words in passing about Arthur

While this post is not about Arthur Miller or "Death of a Salesman" per se, it would be a sin not to mention a bit more about him after having spoken his name. As one journalist put it, "Arthur Miller, one of the great American playwrights, whose work exposed the flaws in the fabric of the American dream .... grappled with the weightiest matters of social conscience in his plays. They often reflected or reinterpreted the stormy and very public elements of his own life, including his brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his staunch refusal to cooperate with the red-baiting House Committee on Un-American Activities."

"Death of a Salesman," a landmark of 20th-century drama, opened on Broadway in 1949, and won Miller a Pulitzer Prize. The play centers on Willy Loman, a 63-year-old salesman and an archetypal character representing the failed American dream. It has been made into films and television productions, and performed live on stage by hundreds (perhaps thousands) of high school, college and community theater groups. It has been translated into a couple of dozen languages. Willy, incidentally, kills himself at the end of the story, ostensibly to obtain life insurance money as a means to provide for his family.

Some of Miller's other plays included "The Crucible," a 1953 production about the Salem witch trials, and "A View From the Bridge," a 1955 drama of obsession and betrayal, both of which also would ultimately take their place as popular classics of the international stage.

Miller wrote other media, as well. Perhaps most notably, he supplied the screenplay for "The Misfits," a 1961 movie directed by John Huston and starring Monroe, to whom he was married at the time. He also wrote essays, short stories and a 1987 autobiography, "Timebends: A Life." Read it, and very possibly you will learn from it.

A few of Miller's attributes (flaws, possibly, depending upon one's world view):

He held that every man is responsible for his and for his neighbor's actions.

He believed every play should teach a lesson and make a thematic point. He imagined that with the possible exception of a doctor saving a life, writing a worthy play was the most important thing a human being could do.

He despised critics. He once dismissed them as "people who can't sing or dance .... I don't know a critic who penetrates the center of anything."

Right on, Art ....

And then, there was she. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were married four years, proving, in my critical analysis of life itself, that all things are possible. During their marriage, Miller wrote the screenplay for the film, "The Misfits," which featured Monroe. At this endeavor, the innate critic within me pronounces her performance as stellar.


Magdalena said...

Yes, and he was the only man she really loved. That is why she died. Because she did not want to live any more, since they have been apart. At least this is my own theory about the real reason of her death.

I like your today's article very much, thank you, Fram :-)

Have a sweet Sunday.

Fram Actual said...

Your comment makes me wonder about this element in their lives, Mag. I have read that their attraction to each other was instantaneous and deep and obvious to all of those who saw them together. In photographs of them together, the depth of his love for her is evident in his eyes, and her face is radiant with happiness and contentment.

Plays are best seen performed by actors on stage as opposed to being read, I think, and at some point along the way in my life I would like to see more performances of Miller's work. He was a playwright who had clarity of vision, I believe, and possibly even intrinsic honesty.

May your Sunday be sweet, as well.

Magdalena said...

I want to see his plays too!!!


TheChicGeek said...

Hi, Fram :)
I like your post today. You write so well! I always enjoy reading the things you write :)

The way we experience things is shaped by our history or life experience. Boo-hiss to the one that says you are confusing him! He needs to open his mind :)

As for Arthur Miller, his plays are wonderful..Death of a Salesman, a Classic :) I have seen it myself.

And lastly, I hate to burst the "love bubble" here but actually Arthur Miller says the worst time in his life was during his marriage to Marilyn! It was her very sad life history that I, believe, drove her to the drugs. Her mother insane, abused as a young woman and viewed as a sex object from the outside and nobody really caring to look within. There is a famous quote by her and I think it sums her psyche up quite accurately. I believe many beautiful women have experienced this. She says, "I've never fooled anyone. I've let people fool themselves. They didn't bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn't argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn't."

There are actually many, many really lovely quotes from Marilyn. I am sure it was hard for her to always be viewed as an object rather than a person...even by her husbands :(

On a happier note :))), hello :)) and I wish you a warm and cozy day today :) I know it is very, very cold in Minnesota.

Sending you hugs and love :)

Fram Actual said...

Somewhere, Mag, I recall reading that Arthur Miller's play, "The Crucible," was performed by a British company at some European locations, including Poland, in the late 1980s, but a quick look today turned up no specifics.

One can only imagine what performances such as that meant in the midst of the ongoing "revolution" which led to the demise of the Communist Party in your country and the complete departure of Russian troops a few years later.

My assumption is that Miller's presence has been felt in more than one Polish theater during the intervening years.

That was then and this is now, and in the weeks ahead I have no doubt we will be found in the audience at one stage production or another -- hopefully, at one of Miller's plays or, possibly, at one from Poland's master playwright, Krystian Lupa or, perhaps, at a performance of my favorite Shakespearean drama, "Henry V." The thought of this sort of adventure makes me smile.

Fram Actual said...

This is interesting, Kelly. I do not think I would try to interpret Marilyn Monroe's psychology. I constantly make mistakes in judging the words and actions of women, but I do read eyes and body language quite well. Doing so has been part of my professional life.

In terms of Arthur Miller's psychology, my view is that Monroe was the only one of his wives who did not give up her own personality to pamper him and to play to his needs. Everything I have read indicates he was devoted to Monroe and lived for her throughout the marriage, which might have worn him down. He was so busy with her that he wrote nothing during the time of their marriage, which might have worn him down. That there was turmoil in their marriage, for sure, which might have worn him down. Perhaps, their needs were too different for a lasting relationship.

Regarding her death, I think a case can be made Monroe actually was murdered. It might have been suicide. It might have been accidental. It is the back-and-forth debate that makes it fascinating.

Regarding the Miller/Monroe relationship. I prefer to think their love was very deep and very profound, but that they simply discovered they could not live together.

Yes, the past couple of days I had a blizzard and sub-zero temperatures to contend with in Minnesota. From this point forward, destiny will keep me in northern zones for the duration of this winter, but possibly the remainder of the season will be milder in Europe.

Thank you, for visiting and commenting, Kelly.

Magdalena said...

Yes, yes, yes!!! We will go on "Marilyn" to our Dramatic Theatre, and on few plays to National Theatre, and to Old Theatre in Kraków, and to Shakespare's Globe Theatre while being in London. And to many others.

Peope can drink or take drugs or commit suicides, but the real reasons of doing it are completely different, and you must look deep, deep inside to discover it. Rarely it is true what people usually say, especially not knowing either one, or second person, they are speaking about.

I always raly on an arist eye.

Now I really have to run, very fast!!!

Bye, bye :-)

Fram Actual said...

Yes, yes, yes, Mag.

It slipped my mind when I was writing yesterday that Krystian Lupa had written a play specifically about Marilyn Monroe. To have seen that would make a conversation of this nature all the more fascinating.

Her appeal and life story transcend national boundaries, and the fact that her death occurred nearly fifty years ago and that she still is studied and explored and revered to the degree she is, has transformed her from "mere film star" into a worldwide icon.

To use suicide as example of understanding the inner-most being of an individual, I personally have known five people who have killed themselves, including one who was among my closest friends for several years.

Superficially, there are obvious reasons for their actions, but in only one of these instances was there any visible signal it might happen. Each instance requires a case study in itself, and the answers still might remain hidden. I think you are correct, Mag.

Art is in the eye of the beholder.

A Cuban In London said...

What a fab return! Arthur Miller, critics and the art of reviewing.

Interesting experiment you conducted and I'm not surprised at the reaction of that reader. What I am surprised about was the he was given a brain when he was born. There are some other people in the world who need one.

Excellent post, full of wit and a lyrical and articulate unorthoxody. Just wha the doctor recommend for a very cold Wednesday morning.

Greetings from London.

Fram Actual said...

If an individual sought to meet every type of person which exists in the world, CiL, I think a career in journalism to be the best place to accomplish that feat. At any rate, it once was. Every newspaper in the world (well, in America, anyway), I am convinced, is a gathering place for the collective species of humankind, as well as a few outlanders.

Thank you, for all the compliments.

As for the beauty and the brain, as Norman Mailer referred to Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, they must have been a fascinating couple to spend and evening with, especially after a few drinks.

My return is short lived. Most of my time now is being spent preparing for a lengthier trip. I will be seeing in the New Year on your side of the Atlantic, but a bit south and east from you.

Thank you, for the visit.

Something special ....