"It seems to me that to organize on the basis of feeding people or righting social injustice and all that is very valuable. But to rally people around the idea of modernism, modernity, or something is simply silly. I mean, I don't know what kind of a cause that is, to be up to date. I think it ultimately leads to fashion and snobbery and I'm against it."
Jack Levine: January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010
Thursday, May 3, 2018
Hate Mail - I'm Being Accused Of Hating Arthur Miller Because . . .
You couldn't be more wrong, I think Arthur Miller is one of the best playwrights of the post-war period in the English language, though his work is uneven - like just about every other person who writes more than a few things - and he unjustly got the reputation of being a spent force well before he stopped writing. And I don't think The Crucible is a bad play, though it sets off my allergy to the use of actual historical events and episodes in theater and movies. I especially love one of his lesser plays, A View From The Bridge, but that's probably due as much to the excellent opera that William Bolcom wrote on it, I remember listening to a radio broadcast of it on earphones while I was weeding one glorious Saturday afternoon and finding it entirely satisfying as an opera.
I should probably have saved this underrated play for the weekend but:
It's timed more like a stage play than the usual radio play but I think it works pretty well. I will point out that Arthur Miller writes an aging policeman and his wife as full, sympathetic people, not as sour, stereotypical anti-heroes. As the dealer says when he meets Victor and Esther "There's only one beauties in this lousy line of work, you get to meet all kinds of people." I think a lot of what Solomon says is the author commenting on what his line of work is, kicking up trouble as well as being sympathetic.
Arthur Miller was a good playwright because he had a sympathetic understanding of people as real people, not as abstract theoretical or ideological types. That's why I can imagine people will still be doing his plays as those of Edward Albee and Harold Pinter and even Tennessee Williams fade. I think that's one of the reasons that his use of the historical figures from Salem doesn't work, you can't see through the characters in the play and their drama to get the "message" as asserted by the playwright. I think the more clumsily written archetypal characters of Inherit the Wind don't work for other reasons, most of them ideological and the desire to distort history for an ideological end that the complex truth doesn't serve.