Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A 40th Anniversary Production of
I first saw the Lincoln Rep Theatre Elia Kazan production at ANTA Washington Square Playhouse in 1964. Jason Robards Jr. played the protagonist Quentin while the late Barbara Loden (Elia Kazan's wife) played the Marilyn Monroe character. Hal Holbrook and Faye Dunaway were also in the cast. The critics attacked the author for exploiting his relationship with Monroe, and I was inclined to agree with them. Mr. Miller had not written a play for nine years prior to this inner journey of his life. During that period he had written the screenplay to Marilyn's film The Misfits (Marilyn's greatest role), obtained a divorce from the star, covered the Nazi trials in Frankfurt and visited the Mauthausen Death Camp in Germany. This play was to unburden all of his guilt during those past years. The existentialist culpability pervades thoughout the fabric of the play.
Miller tried a different approach for this soul-searching drama by using an unusual dialogue style and his narrative conventions are strange to the ear. Characters go in and out of narrator Quentin's (Miller's alter ego) memory with lightning speed. Much of the language in the first act is superficial and the structure is disorganized. It helps to know a little about Miller's nine year period when trying to grasp the meaning of the first act. Miller denied that this was his life story, but everything in the play points to his life from childhood to his position at the time the play was written. It is believed that the playwright denied the fact because Marilyn was still living when the play opened.
Quentin (Christian Phillips), who is now changed to be a liberal leaning lawyer (sometimes called "the Red's lawyer"), tells the audience of his guilt and betrayal, of hope and despair and of evil and forgiveness. He examines his own guilt at length, the doomed relationships with wives Louise and Maggie (Ann Hopkins and Rachel Klyce), the death of his father (Hal Savage) who had bankrupted his company, and his possessive mother (Carol Fotenos). He tells of visiting a concentration camp in Germany after the war, of abandoning his closest friends and associates who were accused of being Communist by the McCarthy hearings. All of this is covered in an uneven and very verbose first act. Characters walk on stage to say a few lines and then disappear in the wings.
After the Fall's second act is a more constructed dramatic sequence of the trials and tribulations of his marriage with a singer named Maggie (who is supposed to be Monroe). The relationship is more father/daughter and the love between them is beautiful. However, as the childlike Maggie becomes more and more of a diva and takes to pills and liquor, the relationship becomes a hell on earth.
Christian Phillips holds center stage as the guilt-ridden Quentin. This is a very demanding role with many lines which he delivers faultlessly. Phillips is able to use his talented acting chops through his excellent performance in the second act, ranging from the quiet and condescending husband to a roaring, aggressive person as Maggie descends into madness.
Rachel Klyce is outstanding as the naïve and obsessed Maggie. Her change from a childlike person to a screaming egocentric pill popping diva is frightening. Her last scene, lying on the floor with her lovely hair in complete disarray, is almost unbearable. This is a tour de force piece of acting. Hal Savage as Quentin's father and Carol Fotenos as his forceful mother are commendable in their roles. Ann Hopkins as a shrew of a first wife is very potent. Nadia Tarzi as Holga, the current lover of Quentin, sports a very good German accent and is very good in the role of a sympathetic mate for the lawyer.
Keith Phillips, a co-founder of the theatre, helms this large cast of talented actors and actresses to present an evocative evening of theatre. The set is sparse, a series of dark boxes, so your attention is always directed to the actors. Rachel Klyce also does the lighting design which is very effective in the concentration camp scene with a stream of white light representing the towers of the death camp.
After the Fall runs through May 22 at Actors Theatre of San Francisco, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-296-9179 or check on www.ticketweb.com for tickets. The theatre group will be announcing a new 2004-2005 season featuring American classic plays soon.