It's Miller Time -- Now and Always
Two cheers for After the Fall. Plus: Notes on I Need a Guy Who Blinks at the Paradise Theater and jazz artist Spencer Day at Don't Tell Mama.
Upon its Broadway debut, After the Fall was widely considered Miller's apologia for his treatment of his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps. But take a step back from the play and consider what else is going on here. Miller's works are never simply about one thing. Here is a complex piece in which the tortured protagonist (a stand-in for Miller) attempts to come to terms with the evil inside his soul and, by clear implication, asks each audience member to examine his/her propensity to do right or wrong. Michael Mayer's inventive direction of the Roundabout production has a free-flowing agility that allows for constant changes of time and place while never leaving the physical space of an airport setting. Smartly designed by Richard Hoover, the set recreates the sleek modernistic look of the TWA terminal at JFK (then Idlewild).
Here, in 1962, Quentin (Peter Krause) is waiting for a plane to arrive bearing Holga (Vivienne Benesch), a woman who offers him a fresh start in life -- if he can face the challenge of beginning again. The play takes place in Quentin's mind in the ten minutes before Holga's plane arrives. A brilliant lawyer, Quentin is the pride of his family -- or, at least of his monstrous mother, unfortunately overplayed by Candy Buckley. During his meteoric rise to fame and fortune, Quentin is married to Louise (Jessica Hecht), who seems terminally unhappy in her relationship with him and makes him pay for it with endless complaints. She accuses him of giving lip service to their relationship; he accepts the blame, but nothing he does seems to satisfy Louise. Hecht's harrowing harpy is a study in quiet malevolence.
Quentin finds freedom -- or at least he admires it from afar -- in Maggie, a redheaded reflection of Marilyn Monroe played radiantly by Carla Gugino (the first potential Tony nominee of the season). Still, no matter how hard he tries, he can't give her enough attention. He lets her down, as well. In the midst of all this, Quentin is representing a former communist who's fighting the HUAC -- but Quentin doesn't have the stomach for the assignment, and his image of himself starts to crumble. Things only get worse when his mother dies. On a trip to Germany Quentin meets Holga; he also visits the site of a concentration camp and feels the moral ground beneath his feet begin to shake. To his horror, he finds that he can understand how people can treat each other so brutally. Finally, that's the point of the play: the difficulty of retaining one's humanity after one knows the truth, "after the fall" from innocence.
This daring play has been given a flawed but strong production by the Roundabout. It goes wrong in the same area where so many Roundabout shows hit the skids: casting. In an effort to bring "stars" to Broadway and, therefore, more people to see plays, the company has perversely given us Peter Krause in the role of Quentin. A generally fine actor, Krause is entirely too WASPy to play what should be a more ethnic character. Also, Krause's Quentin doesn't come across as emotionally tortured; rather, he seems exasperated, which is not the same thing. As a consequence, there isn't as much at stake in Quentin's quest to understand himself, and the play loses some of its impact.
Nonetheless, it still has punch because Mayer gives the production a strong directorial thrust. And the play, line for line and concept for concept, reminds us yet again that Arthur Miller is one of our giants.
Love in the Blink of an Eye
One is tempted to call writer/actress Janine Squillari an "Everyman." That's because she played every man she ever dated in I Need a Guy Who Blinks, a one-woman show that has just finished its run at the Paradise Theater. The adorable and talented Squillari is a quicksilver actress with an expressive face and a malleable body. Her work displays a refreshing honesty in her willingness to admit her own shortcomings -- one of which, clearly, is bad taste in men.
This post-feminist comedy unashamedly presented its heroine as a sexually active woman on the prowl while also dealing straightforwardly with her need to find and nurture a loving relationship with a man. What do you do when you meet a man who has a closer relationship with a potato than he does with you? Perhaps you write a play and include the tale of "The Food Guy?" In an amusing but slight show, directed with a fast pace by Elizabeth Browning, Squillari took us on a journey through dating hell. It seems that she went out with a lot of dummies until she found one -- a literal, wooden dummy -- who was, at least, a good listener.
There's nothing groundbreaking in I Need a Guy Who Blinks, a familiar "confessional" piece in which the character achieves a certain degree of self-understanding; but not every show needs to push the envelope. Based on Squillari's performance here, we'll be keeping an eye out for her in the future.
Day In, Day Out
Spencer Day is a charming young jazz singer. He also fashions himself as a songwriter, but he's got some miles to go on that road. One of his tunes, "Arizona Blue," suggests that traveling those miles might be well worth the effort. At this stage of his career, Day comes across as a personable and talented jazz pianist/crooner who can also stand at a microphone and weave some magic.
If he's out of his depth in songs like "Rainy Night in Georgia" (he seems way too young and innocent to put that one over), he's breezy and engaging in "Don't You Worry Bout Me" and "Don't Sleep in the Subway." When we caught Day's act at Don't Tell Mama, he was performing with laryngitis, making the best of a bad situation. Happily, his personality and his fine musicianship pulled him through. Clearly, his day will come.