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In AFTER THE FALL at PIP/Subversive, playwright Arthur Miller reveals his inner demons

THE BASICS:  AFTER THE FALL, the 1964 autobiographical drama by Arthur Miller presented by Subversive Theatre in association with Post Industrial Productions, directed by PIP’s Bob Van Valin, runs through April 6, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., plus Sunday March 31 at 2 p.m. in The Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Avenue, third floor (462-5549). Runtime: 2 hours and 55 minutes with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Arthur Miller’s plays rip off the band aids (or “pull back the curtain”) to expose the dangerous hypocrisies of society while at the same time revealing the tortured deliberations of a man caught between his own illusions and delusions versus what is presented to him as reality. With Miller there are always family tensions, hidden motivations, and lots of personal confrontations and AFTER THE FALL is no exception. Here “Quentin” (think Arthur Miller) is a lawyer who has really dropped the ball when defending a friend who has been accused during the McCarthy hearings, but he’s also a Jew (as was Miller) with Holocaust survivor guilt, a son with father issues, and a clueless husband who seems most at home when arguing with his various wives (and girlfriends) including “Maggie” (think Marilyn Monroe). A lot of Miller’s themes of insincerity, double standards, and lies coupled with self-examination can be seen in the routines of contemporary Jewish comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld or Woody Allen. The difference is that they are comics and Miller writes dramatic tragedies. Quentin tells his own story and over the course of roughly three hours scenes are acted out on stage or on video projections, frequently circling back over and over the same ground, just as we all tend to dwell on or even perseverate with certain memories.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Arthur Miller has certainly been well represented recently in Western New York, with the Irish Classical Theatre doing DEATH OF A SALESMAN several years ago as well as more recently ALL MY SONS. The Kavinoky Theatre has recently produced THE CRUCIBLE and A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE.

Now, a new production company in Buffalo, Post Industrial Productions has waded into the deep end with AFTER THE FALL. I guess their motto is “go big or go home.” The play was not a success with the public back in the 1960s. That was partly because it’s hard to watch Quentin’s blend of rationalization mixed with self-recrimination without seeing yourself. It’s so much easier to sit back and say “Oh, that Willy Loman, what a loser” or “Oh, that self-justifying Joe Keller selling all those defective airplane parts” or “Oh, those Salem witch trials, thank God we’re more enlightened” or “Oh, that Eddie Carbone behaving so badly with his 18-year-old niece.”

It was also unpopular at the time because it exposed on a national level that America’s ideal sex goddess, the “blonde bombshell” Marilyn Monroe was an alcoholic and a drug addict and had committed suicide. Because Miller (they were married from 1956 to 1961) started writing the play before her death, it’s assumed that all he wanted to do was to expose the way society and the industry had mis-treated her, but coming so soon after people took it as an attack.

In this play, Quentin drives just about everybody around the bend.

There’s a funny bumper sticker that reads: “Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your kids.”  In this play, Quentin drives just about everybody around the bend. He should come with a sticker that says “Warning: being with Quentin may result in neurotic behavior. Associate at your own risk.” So, first off, congratulations to the entire cast for displaying so believably and so quickly that range of emotions that the central character engenders.

Kathleen Rooney as Quentin’s mother

Darryl Hart has the heavy role of “Quentin” and is on stage almost constantly, but his manner, even in moments of self-doubt is so assured, and he is so believable in the role, that it all feels very natural. Bethany Burrows really gives a great presentation of Marilyn Monroe, alternately affectionate or bitchy, but you really feel that you know her back story and why she behaves the way she does. And, ultimately, like all the women in Quentin’s life, she is disappointed by him.

Elliot Fox is one of those actors who is so in the role that it’s easy to take what he’s doing for granted, and as Lou, the friend in need, his portrayal of self-confidence one minute and sheer panic the next was a tour de force. Kate Parker plays Louise, Quentin’s first wife, who has just about had it with being ignored. Kathleen Rooney was wonderful, as usual, as Quentin’s mother, with that slightly dotty way she has of portraying characters who are able to ignore the ugly realities of life that are so patently obvious to the audience. Alex Rubin is young, energetic, and completely believable as Mickey, whose beliefs are quite shocking to others, but he is so sincere that you start to doubt yourself. Brendan Cunningham has brief scenes as Quentin’s bumbling failure of a father, both live and in a variety of director Van Valin’s excellent video projections. Amanda Vink plays Holga, the Austrian whose initial hesitancy seems to come from a slight language barrier, until you begin to understand that she, too, suffers from “Quentin-itis,” wanting to be with him, but recognizing that he one crazy-making guy. Bekki Sliwa plays the role of Felice, the young woman enthralled by the older Quentin’s seemingly sage advice. Jessica Leigh Tokarski plays Elsie, another woman that Quentin ignores.

That nobody turns into a cartoon, ever, can be credited to sure direction by Post-Industrial Production’s artistic director (and long-time Subversive Theatre member) Bob Van Valin, with assistant director/dramaturg Andrea Gollhardt. And kudos to Brenna Prather for costumes. Each one is unique and seems to be in character. And, for the first time in a long time on a Buffalo stage, we see the character of a successful man who is wearing a suit that fits perfectly. Finally!

Photo credits – Dave Mayza of Mayza Media | Lead image: L-R Darryl Hart, Bethany Burrows

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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