After the Fall is an autobiographical play inspired by key events in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller’s life, including his brushes with Communism and subsequent run-ins with the House Un-American Activities Committee as well as his turbulent relationship with legendary sex goddess Marilyn Monroe. Having polarized audiences and critics since its Broadway premiere in 1964, the work has been variously described as a “confessional” and a “cosmic yelp.”
Here, Miller’s surrogate is named Quentin, a liberal lawyer whose position at his firm is threatened by revelations of his Communist past and by the actions of Mickey, a once-close friend who has decided to “name names” to save his own skin. Meanwhile, Quentin’s wife, Irene, becomes increasingly hostile as the distance between them grows.
By the time their marriage has disintegrated, he’s become involved with Maggie, a switchboard operator at his law firm, and her childlike simplicity is a welcome break from his painful everyday life. But after he divorces Irene and marries Maggie, who has become a famous singer, he faces even more tragedy as she begins to crumble under the effects of drug and alcohol abuse.
This memory play randomly replays scenes of his childhood and youth—his relationship with various members of his family, including his overbearing mother and ineffectual father, his guilt over betraying those close to him, and the strange dichotomy of feelings that wash over him when he visits the Nazi death camps. Fittingly, the production opens and closes with the same image—wife-to-be Holga, who has just flown in from Germany, waiting for him to pick her up at Idlewild Airport.
In 1964, Miller’s work incurred the wrath of critics who claimed he was exploiting Monroe’s too-recent drug-related death; still others were chilly to the play’s difficult, nonlinear structure.
Contemporary audiences may simply find it rather self-indulgent; the psychoanalysis that was fashionable when this piece was written is rather tiresome now, particularly during Act Two, which consists almost entirely of a climactic confrontation between Quentin and the nearly comatose Maggie. This scene may have been shocking to original theatergoers so soon after Monroe’s death, but now it seems strained.
Despite this criticism, I must give high marks to the HumanArts Theater Company’s new production, under the direction of RoZsa Horvath. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Brian Robert Harris a commanding presence as Quentin; Vincent Malcolm Cusimano is also fine as Mickey, the friend who betrays Quentin and who is clearly modeled after director and HUAC testifier Elia Kazan.
Other notable cast members play the women in Quentin’s life—Sharon Samples (Mother), Mary Carrig (Louise), and Julie Anne Bermel (Holga). Jennefer Ludwigsen is particularly outstanding as the troubled Monroe surrogate, Maggie—ironically the play’s most sympathetic character.
This production is a prime example of all departments working in tandem to create a satisfying whole. Eileen Gizienski’s period costume design is appropriately evocative, Adam Rosen’s setting is dramatically stark, and all other technical aspects are woven together seamlessly—Vinnie Reyes’ music design, Matt Richter’s sound, and Michael Gend’s lighting.
The multimedia design, by William Barker and Bruce Allen, allows for effective, dreamlike projections of the offscreen characters as they move in and out of Quentin’s consciousness. Sometimes they speak, but often they are merely silent observers of Quentin’s confessions.
If there are any flaws, they’re in the source material itself. That being said, After the Fall is considered a work of genius by many, and this is certainly the way to see it.
After the Fall plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through April 1st at the Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 960-4443.
Photos: Sandra Saad