Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Theatre Blogging

As some of you may have heard, Aurther Miller died this past weekend. He was widely considered the best playwright of our time. His two most famous plays are Death Of A Salesman, and The Crucible.

The Crucible is a favorite among highschool drama programs. Partly because it presents a challenge to the players in the form of older english dialogue. And partly because it requires costumes that are fun to make. Lost on highschoolers however is the relevance of the play. The Crucible was written about the Salem Witch Trials as a satirical take on McCarthyism. In fact Miller was actually subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Commitee in 1956. The merits of McCarthyism aside, The Crucible has lost most of it's social relevance over the years(except to left wingers who like to preach about 'tolerance'). And without social relevance this play doesn't have much going for it. It is incredibly high handed and preachy at times, and is only really entertaining on a visual level.

Death Of A Salesman is meant to be an indictment of middle class life in the US. The show is forever being revived on and off-Broadway and is hailed as the opus of our generation. That's all well and good if you are an opus connoisseur. But to most people it is just and exercise in misery.

The Wall Street Journal puts it thusly:
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the fanfares to die away, and no less interesting to see whether any of Miller's plays outlive him. Most are already deservedly forgotten, but I expect that "Death of a Salesman" will continue to hold the stage, though not because it is beautiful or intelligent or provocative. It is, rather, sentimental, and sentimentality always goes over big in the commercial theater, so long as it's disguised as realism. More important, "Death of a Salesman" has a coarsely compulsive power that somehow manages to mask its aesthetic deficiencies, or at least render them momentarily palatable. That's the mystery of theater: It's all about what works, and like it or not, "Death of a Salesman" works. But it's no "Lear," just as Arthur Miller was no Shakespeare, and anyone who thinks otherwise is as lead-eared as he was.
It is tragic to hear about someone dying. If only his plays could have died instead of him.....