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Miller's Tales

Arena Stage's Arthur Miller Festival includes Death of a Salesman and A View From the Bridge. Plus: Robert Prosky stars in The Price at Theater J. logo
Rick Foucheux in Death of a Salesman
(© Scott Suchman)
"I think that without Arthur Miller, many of the great playwrights we can name of the last 60 years might not have found their voices," says Timothy Bond, who is directing Death of a Salesman as part of Arena Stage's Arthur Miller Festival. Indeed, Miller, who passed away in 2005, is widely regarded as one of the 20th century's greatest playwrights, winning a Pulitzer Prize, seven Tony Awards (including one for Lifetime Achievement), and numerous other honors during his career.

A common theme in several of his works is the elusiveness of "The American Dream." Many of his characters struggle with the promise held out by this concept, and their all too human failures that make it impossible to achieve. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Death of a Salesman, in which area favorite Rick Foucheux stars as Willy Loman, the American everyman haunted by missed opportunities and a troubled past. However, despite the play's doom-filled title, Bond is focusing on the characters' hopes and aspirations.

"The key is not to play the end at the beginning," he states. "What are Willy's dreams? What are the demons he's been struggling with? The fact is this guy is a fighter and will not let go of his dream, his vision of who he is at work, or who his son Biff is in the world. The other key is to understand and explore the play as a love story between father and son. It's Willy's love for Biff that drives almost every choice that he makes throughout the piece, combined with his unwillingness to let go of his belief in himself and the American Dream. By staying focused on what the characters are fighting for, the play just lifts up and off the page."

Bond's production runs in repertory with A View from the Bridge, directed by Daniel Aukin and starring Delaney Williams as Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone, whose world gets upended when two of his wife's impoverished Sicilian cousins enter the country illegally, and his beloved niece falls for one of them. The tight-knit Italian neighborhood depicted in the play ends up being a defining factor of the work. "One of the themes running through the writing is the extent to which personal identity is shaped and defined by our position and relationships in a larger community," says Aukin. "There are specifics to Red Hook, Brooklyn in the 1950s that bring this out forcefully, and I hope the production does the same."

John Prosky, Robert Prosky, and Andrew Prosky
in The Price
(© Tina Giaimo)
In addition to Arena's two productions, a third Miller play has transferred from Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre to D.C.'s Theater J: The Price, which stars veteran actor Robert Prosky along with his two sons, Andrew and John, under the direction of Michael Carelton. "I knew my sons were good, but I didn't realize they were this good," says Prosky of the casting. "The play explores a rather dysfunctional family, but ours is anything but. American actors are called upon to do some rather intimate things onstage or in film with somebody you just met half an hour ago. My sons and I have known each other our entire lives, and we can say things to each other that other actors wouldn't dare say."

The Price, which is set in a Manhattan brownstone, concerns two brothers (played by the Prosky siblings) whose long-repressed dreams, desires, and resentments bubble to the surface when an 89-year-old Jewish furniture salesman named Gregory Solomon (Robert Prosky) is hired to assess their late father's possessions. "It's the funniest part that Miller ever wrote," says Prosky of his character. "It's almost like he became Neil Simon, although there's still a large difference. Solomon has a great deal of depth and wisdom. His name is no accident, as the play explores frankly Biblical themes, and the two brothers are like Cain and Abel."

Prosky feels lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Miller while the playwright was still alive, as Alfieri in the 1983 Broadway revival of A View From the Bridge. He fondly recalls sharing a moment with the celebrated playwright backstage on opening night: "I was pacing back and forth, and I saw this tall, Jewish Abraham Lincoln doing the same thing -- only he had a snifter of brandy in one hand and I didn't."

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