By 1982, it had been 30 years since a handful of plays had placed Arthur Miller atop the list of American dramatists and 20 years since divorce from a handful named Marilyn Monroe had ended five years atop America’s all-time female sex icon. On the one hand, Miller was looking to explore new forms of drama. On the other, he was haunted by the now-mythic image of an ex-wife who, 18 months after their marriage ended, had ended her life.
Those preoccupations form the ill-fitted hemispheres of Some Kind of Love Story, a one-act making its West Coast bow 26 years after Miller staged its premiere in New Haven. Michael Arabian directs the Hayworth Theatre production, which continues through August 31.
Miller has acknowledged his conscious motivation behind writing this play and its companion one-act, Elegy for a Lady. “[They] are of a different form than I’ve ever tried before,” he told Matthew Charles Roudané in 1983. “Some Kind of Love Story concerns the question of how we believe truth, how one is forced by circumstance to believe what you are only sure is not too easily demonstrated as false.”
Unfortunately, that explanation only confuses the issue. Not only is it an obvious verbatim transcript, which can make the best interviewee sound like Cheech or Chong, it sounds like a writer still fumbling after a phantom form. Not surprisingly, Arabian and his two-member cast – Beege Barkette as Angela and Jack Kehler as Tom – all seem to have been dumped without a map into the show’s apartment bedroom set (a surprisingly impersonal example of Prop Storage Chic by the usually resourceful John Iacovelli).
Miller’s experimenting has done little more than pull the rug out from under his actors and audience.
It’s the middle of a spring night in 1962, not coincidentally a few months before Monroe’s suicide. A distraught Angela, unmade-bed sexy despite a new shiner from a man who has just left, is awaiting the arrival of Tom, a 24-year NYPD veteran who became her lover while investigating a crime that she had witnessed. Tom still believes the case closed after an innocent man was convicted. He also thinks that Angela is hiding some fact that can free the wrongly imprisoned man.
Unfortunately, that fact, like Angela's feelings for Tom and any hope for coherence in this story, is buried under her many layers of mental instability. Between her exorcising multiple personality demons and exercising her sex-for-money machinations, what she says is always suspect. (Even if Tom got something, it’s unlikely her word would stand up in court, given her mental illness and history of bedding – so she claims – many key figures in the case.)
Still, hope of righting this injustice is Tom’s stated reason for again leaving his wife’s bed and risking a house call to Angela’s. We begin to get the groundwork for a fascinating story about compulsive behavior, addiction to the wrong people, truth, lies, and fantasy. Unfortunately, Kehler’s cop is a theatrical flatfoot. If this play can work at all (and it apparently didn’t in Miller’s staging either), it needs someone who can transmit this man’s multi-leveled frustration, passion, and anger. What Kehler offers is discomfort, weariness, and some sense of moral indignation. He does offer anger as well, but the two or three times we see Tom’s outrage, it explodes out of his placid demeanor like a monster bursting up out of a loch. It feels stagy and further hinders our engagement.
It must be reported here that press night was twice delayed a week, a not inconsequential bit of evidence in determining what has been committed here. That clue may or may not connect to Kehler’s half-dozen word stumbles – roughly double this reviewer’s (generous) allowance for a performance (even by a Non-Equity actor). For her part, Barkette also is asked to create a character with so much submerged and unexplained baggage that she is drowning in opportunities for overplaying. To her credit, she does not, except for scenes in which Miller and Arabian make her jump through multiple personality hoops. They don’t really land, but she can be forgiven considering the general confusion of the enterprise.
Miller provided the opening tip to the personal dimension of this play by setting it just months before his ex-wife’s death. Arabian closes the case with the second Angela costume he orders from designer Traci McWain. We won’t spoil the moment by describing it. Let’s just say it begs for a stiff breeze. But so does the cobwebby plotting of Miller’s spider-and-fly tale. While an unusual amount of stage fog fills the house as audience members arrive inside the intimate Studio, it dissipates during the 75-minute show. Plenty of plot-fog, however, will be carried home by the audience.
Miller created a film noir version of the story in his screenplay Everybody Wins, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. Those obsessed with solving the mystery of this odd one-act by the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winner may want to investigate that work for clues to what happened here.
CREDITS: By Arthur Miller, directed by Michael Arabian. WITH: Beege Barkette, Jack Kehler. PRODUCTION: John Iacovelli, set; Traci McWain, costumes; Frank McKown, lights; Bob Blackburn, sound; Joe Morrissey, stage management Hayworth Theatre. August 10-31 (Opened 8/16; rev’d 8/22.) West Coast Premiere.