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A Beloved American Playwright's Dark Secret Is Uncovered in Fall

Huntington Theatre presents the world premiere of a play about the private life of Arthur Miller and his neglected son.

Josh Stamberg and Joanne Kelly in a scene from Fall, directed by Peter DuBois, at the Huntington Theatre Company.
(© T. Charles Erickson)

Arthur Miller was a son, a husband, and a father, relationships which he drew upon for his most celebrated plays, Death of a Salesman and All My Sons. He was also a moralist about the choices that men make and how these decisions affect the remainder of their lives. Miller was courageous in his 1956 refusal to "name names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee, outspoken in his opposition to the Vietnam War, and brave in taking up the rescue of international journalists when he was president of PEN, the writers organization.

However, Miller's private life was in conflict with his public persona. Playwright and journalist Bernard Weinraub's moving play, Fall, now premiering at the Huntington Theatre, explores Miller and the toll his inner demons must have taken.

Miller kept a secret: the birth of his fourth child, a son, Daniel, born with Down syndrome. He and his third wife, Inge Morath, placed Daniel in an institution, a common practice for families in 1966 when he was born. While Inge visited Daniel often, Miller never saw him until he was grown.

Weinraub has imagined the effect that keeping Daniel out of sight had on Miller's career as a dramatist and on his marriage. The drama is structured as a chronology of short scenes, beginning with Inge's pregnancy and continuing for nearly 39 years until just before her death in 2002. Although Miller had three other children, Daniel was never mentioned in Miller's 1987 memoir, Timebends, or in most obituaries for him. Nor was Daniel invited to either of his parents' funerals or to the large memorial service dedicated to Miller.

As Weinraub writes it, the marriage between Miller (portrayed by Josh Stamberg as a man in denial and emotionally frozen except when with Inge) and Inge (a glowing Joanne Kelly) is a loving one, except for arguments about Daniel. In the beginning, Dr. Paula Wise, the family doctor and confidant (an empathetic Joanna Glushak), advises the couple to institutionalize Daniel. When medical research changes as the years go by, Dr. Wise suggests bringing Daniel home or putting him into a community-based facility, which Miller strenuously refuses, contradicting Inge's wishes. The producer, Robert Whitehead (John Hickok), a close friend of the family, tries to make peace in the family.

One more character onstage in Fall is Daniel himself, performed with dignity and grace by Nolan James Tierce, an actor with Down syndrome. Tierce appears three times in the play to explain Daniel's side of the story. He is only shown once interacting with his father, after a public speech delivered by Miller. By then a teenager, Daniel introduces himself to the startled Miller, who recovers and gives his son a hug. Although Marilyn Monroe, Miller's second wife, has passed away before the play begins, the many mentions about her suggest she is a continuing presence for the couple.

Weinraub is fortunate to have such a passionately involved ensemble of actors who also age believably over the play's two hours and 10 minutes. Director Peter DuBois smartly pushes the fragmented scenes quickly on- and offstage on Brandon McNeal's scenic design, which changes from New York to Connecticut by means of rolling set pieces. Projections designed by Zachary Borovay display news clips to establish the political tone of the era. Ilona Somogyi provides timeless, casual chic costumes.

Throughout the play, Inge questions Miller about the themes of the dramas he has written. Miller replies, "In my plays I try to define the price you pay for the choices you make in life" — perhaps a response shaped by the guilt and shame Miller feels about Daniel. The epilogue, delivered by the actors as themselves, reveals the unexpected coda. Six weeks before his death, Miller changed his will, leaving a full share of his millions to Daniel, equal to the bequests for his other three children.

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