After the Fall
After the Fall
There is a sort of lower intestinal theory going about these days to account for and perhaps excuse the current fiasco at the Theater of the Lincoln Arts Center. The argument being that After the Fall must be regarded as something which Arthur Miller had to get out of his system and that if only people had the decency to leave him alone (Christ! Fair’s fair!) he will now come out with something really big (He’s already working on the new play, y’know.) This spiritual gastro-enterology has never seemed very convincing; I do not appreciate the categorical imperative for getting things out of the system—or at least not in public. Moreover there seems to be no reason to suspect, from what he has done in the past, that this present evacuation is going to be followed by anything at all, except perhaps more of the same. Arthur Miller has always been the owner of a sound, but essentially minor, talent and no amount of purgation can improve the quality of whatever there may be to follow. As it is, however, those qualities which he has, substantial as they are, always seem to overreach themselves, straining after a magnitude for which they are simply not fitted. And in the few years that he has been away, on Sinai it would seem, Miller has developed an absurd literary hubris, puffing himself up like an idiotic bull-frog in Aesop.
The play is surrounded by devices that make it look bigger than it really is. For one thing it is very long, which seems to carry an awful lot of weight with the audience. The location is cunningly chosen too, for the play is set “in the mind, thought and memory of Quentin.” Just like Death of a Salesman, which was to have been called Inside His Head. With “your average B’way audience,” conditioned by popular psychology and by the fifth-hand derivatives of a long forgotten avant garde, this cranial venue commands immediate reverence. “The mind of man! Jeez! That’s just about the most important place in the whole world.” For “your average B’way middlebrow,” his shelves a-creak with Will Durant, the mind or the brain or the head is the most privileged cultural enclosure of all and what goes on inside it is necessarily more literary than that which does not. So we get the arena stage turned into a bumpily upholstered basin which represents the inside of Quentin’s head, the outside of which is played with the usual quizzical, ogling monotony by Jason Robards. With Quentin (get that name!) as storm center, the action swirls about in free-associational eddies and “people appear and disappear instantaneously, as in the mind…the effect, therefore, will be the surging, flitting, instaneousness of a mind questing over its own surfaces and depths….”
Like the location inside the head, this free psychic line of action, with its flitting and surging, can make an audience feel that it is in …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.
Letters March 19, 1964