PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: After the Fall

News   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: After the Fall On July 29, after the curtain had fallen on After the Fall and after the audience had accorded the cast a generous reception, Arthur Miller himself took the stage of the American Airlines Theatre and took a deep, bashful, old-guard bow. Suddenly, respect was on a whole new level, buckets of it raining from the rafters, all for The Great Man.

From Top: Arthur Miller and girlfriend Agnes Barlow, Peter Krause and Carla Gugino, Vivienne Benesch, Michael Mayer, Freddy Rodriguez, and Rachel Griffiths
From Top: Arthur Miller and girlfriend Agnes Barlow, Peter Krause and Carla Gugino, Vivienne Benesch, Michael Mayer, Freddy Rodriguez, and Rachel Griffiths Photo by Aubrey Reuben

A sight like that gives any self-respecting audience a sense of participating in history. Slightly stooped at 89, Miller drank in the prolonged and thunderous applause with a restrained, but appreciative, smile—and then slowly moseyed for the wings in a gaggle of cast headed by a couple of small screen big-names, Peter Krause and Carla Gugino.

"The most exciting thing about this show, so far, has been sharing the stage with Arthur Miller," actress Vivienne Benesch admitted a short time later at the after-party four doors down 42nd Street at B.B. King's. "It just doesn't get much better than that, does it?"

Benesch passes for The Happy Ending in this angst-ridden quasi autobiography. Written 40 years ago when Miller was going through midlife inventory, the piece came out as a free-floating memory play which may not be the literal truth but rubs up against it rawly and makes some known Miller stops: three wives; the blacklist and the lives this ruined; Holocaust guilt; a badgering mother and battered father; a financially strapped family life.

Michael Mayer, who helmed 1997's Tony-winning revival of Miller's A View From the Bridge, reconceived After the Fall in an Outward Bound limbo—the departures lounge of an airline terminal. There are a number of abrupt and painful exits in this passing parade, all capped by Benesch's arrival into the life of the Miller surrogate, Quentin, a lawyer.

"Although Miller loathes to admit this is auobiographical," Benesch postscripts, "my character did wind up married to him for 40 years" [like the late photographer Inge Morath]. The author attended rehearsals and previews, she said, and gave notes in 45-minute sessions. "The most incredible thing about him is he's all about questions. He's still asking questions about the play. He wasn't in any way dictating how he thought it should be done. In fact, part of the beauty of doing this play again is that there is no precedent of it having ever worked before so we entered into this sort of how-can-we-make-this-work, and he was very much a part of that. There was a huge amount of reediting. I'd say 30 percent of the audience addresses is out. He rearranged scenes and cut three or four characters."

Krause, usually found on TV's "Six Feet Under," playing a sexy if unsatisfied mortician, officiates at this service as Quentin, fragments of his past swirling around him. He is off stage two of the play's 135 minutes. There are easier ways to make your Broadway debut.

He arrived at the party, looking like he'd been through just what he had been through, but he mustered the obligatory photo-op smile nevertheless. Happily, Freddy Rodriguez, a "Six Feet Under" cohort, was at the entrance, ready with a congratulatory hug. Rachel Griffiths, also from that show, did likewise. "I'm very, very proud of him—he's a dear friend of mine," said Rodriguez. "This makes me miss theatre. Theatre's my background." He made his mark in Chicago and is raring to make his New York debut.

The gorgeous Gugino, who didn't exactly have a picnic playing a thinly veiled facsimile of the second Mrs. Miller (an icon named Marilyn Monroe), also seemed freshly depleted by the play but managed to do a plausible perky for the paparazzi. "It's really exhausting, but it's really exhilarating at the same time," she confessed. "I'm in Actor Heaven. I really am. You couldn't want a better role than this." Or one with a bigger arc. "Maggie" starts small—a fumbling, fragile receptionist—then fame ups the ante, turning her into an out-of-control singing star. "I think if you don't have a sense of your own self, you don't have a sense of your own worth. When you become famous, that's really exacerbating because people will always be looking to you for superficial things—your values always go up and down—and I think it is that way for her. She doesn't have any way to balance herself."

Gugino's harrowing performance leads the howling pack of Quinten's female casualties. Jessica Hecht delivers some well-earned rage as the forgotten first wife. "It's incredible language," she said. "Once you start to play it, the ideas become part of your whole being. You become just possessed by those idea because of the way Miller writes. I think everyone can relate to this woman because she's standing up for a healthy relationship. In that era, it was so rare. I love playing someone who stands up for what she wants."

The always-skilled Candy Buckley added a ferocious mother, unbalanced by the economy of the times. "Michael Mayer had a lot of ideas for that part," she said. "In reading it, I wouldn't have known, but, in Michael's interpretation of it, she's so sexual. What I did know from reading it, she had such aspirations for herself, and her life was pretty much ruined by the crash of 1929. She just turned all her hopes onto that stock."

On the men's side of the ledger, the most conspicuous victim is Lou, whose blacklisting prompts his suicide. Mark Nelson, the actor and sometimes director who plays the part, considered it almost a miracle that Miller ensnared Elia Kazan to direct the original production—particularly this portion of the play—since Kazan's name-naming during the McCarthy era was a cross he had to bear right to his grave. But, somehow, it happened.

"It amazing that he had the generosity to invite Kazan to direct the play," said Nelson. "There's a story in Martin Gottfried's biography of Arthur that, in previews, when Lou is being asked to name names to the committee, Kazan had a woman in a bathing suit walking across the back of the stage, hoping that the audience wouldn't pay too much attention to the scene in progress. Finally, Arthur had to talk him into cutting that."

The blacklisting provoked a host of man-made tragedies—suicides. premature heart attacks and permanent unemployment. The real-life character that Nelson based his performance on simply withdrew. "There's a reference in Arthur's autobiography, Timebends, to his friend and neighbor in New York, Louis Untermeyer. He was a panelist on `What's My Line?' He was a great socialite. He was the editor of Robert Frost. My mom, when I was five years old, used to read to me from The Golden Anthology of Family Poems by Louis Untermeyer. He was called before the committee and didn't leave his apartment for a year after being humiliated into testifying. He just retreated from life."

A galaxy of guests/stars negotiated the "tough commute" from theatre to club, where Tony-winning choreographer Savion Glover is currently bringing in 'da noise and 'da funk. Among them: Josh Hartnett, Claire Danes, Tony Roberts, Tony Danza, Samantha Mathis, Byron Jennings and Ben Shenkman (hanging together, having just closed in Sight Unseen), Keri Russell, Roger Rees, Jayne Atkinson, Raul Esparza, Dick Latessa (free of his Tony-winning Hairspray role at last—"You become a recluse when you do a show that long"—and looking forward to grandfatherhood in December), Margaret Colin, Danny Gerroll, Peter Frechette, Tom Irwin, Carolyn McCormick, Kathryn Meisle and Miller's sis, Joan Copeland, glammed up for the occasion.

Richard Widmark hit the entrance the same time as Miller, saw the party commotion ahead of him, turned on his heel and split, setting some sort of a speed record for a 90-year-old. The League of American Theatres and Producers' Jed Bernstein stood back and gave the paparazzi spotlight to his date for the evening, Fox news chick Teresa Estrada. One reporter complimented Asian beauty Bai Ling on her performance in The Manchurian Candidate. "I didn't get that part," she shot back sweetly. "I'm in She Hate Me."

Fresh from his one-man contribution to the Kennedy Center salute to Tennessee Williams (A Distant Country Called Youth), Richard Thomas was hoping aloud that the piece would find a home in New York. It's based on the letters of the young Tennessee Williams and goes up to the early drafts of A Streetcar Named Desire when Stanley was still called Ralph. "Those letters are so charming, I think, and very revealing," he said. "We're working to put the second edition of letters in now. There's going to be three volumes. I don't know where or what kind of venue it would have here, but I'm hoping."

But the first order of business is spy business, heading the American cast of Michael Frayn's Democracy for director Michael Blakemore. And, even before that, unpack: "We moved back to New York last week and just got a place. We move in Tuesday."

Director David Warren, who directed the favorably reviewed Fiction this week, was beaming ear to ear with some nonfiction: His Barry Manilow musical, Harmony, is back on track, having been derailed last season by faulty financing. "We start a five-week workshop on Aug. 9, and most of the cast who was involved before will be returning: Brian d'Arcy James, Janine LaManna, Kate Baldwin, David Turner, Aaron Lazar. Five of the six guys who were The Harmonists will be back. David Ayers, who's in Fiddler on the Roof, is the one new guy because Stephen Buntrock can't make it."

Edie Falco, whom Mayer will next direct in Marsha Norman's 'night, Mother with Brenda Blethyn, skipped the party but sent along her friend and former stage husband, Sideman's Tony winning Frank Wood. He's just back from Hartford, riding the raves he got in Peter and Jerry, Edward Albee's prequel to his classic, The Zoo Story. It opens here in October at The Little Shubert, co-starring Johanna Day and Frederick Weller. Headed for Hartford is character actor Bill Raymond. He'll do his annual Ebenezer there and stick around for What the Butler Saw, both shows directed by Hartford Stage Company's artistic director, Michael Wilson. You may even catch Raymond on the screen before that. "A Hole in One will, hopefully, make it out. It's a very difficult, kind of unattractive movie, but I love it. It's about the lobotomy craze in the '50s. I play a renegade lobotomist, based on a real-life character named Walter C. Friedman."

After 'night, Mother, Mayer may be directing—possibly for Roundabout in the spring—a new play by a Juilliard twentysomething named Noah Haidle called Mr. Marmalade. Director Ethan McSweeney has been testing it out at South Coast Rep and the Westport Playhouse. "It's about a young girl and her imaginary friend, who turns out to be abusive and delinquent," said McSweeney. Next, he's off to La Jolla Playhouse to world-premiere Lee Blessing's latest barb at The Bard, The Scottish Play. (You may recall Blessing once did a play called Fortinbras, about what happened after Hamlet.) "This one," according to McSweeney, "is about a theatre troupe that's done every play of Shakespeare's but one—and then finally does it." The curse goes into effect like clockwork. It's a comedy.

Scott Elliott, artistic director of The New Group, said he's ripe for a revival of David Rabe's Hurlyburly, most likely in January. "It's a play about the '80s," he said. "There's something about this period that reflects on where we are now. I'm very fond of the play."

F. Murray Abraham, back from the international filming wars, has been in Spain, toiling with fellow Oscar winners Robert De Niro and Kathy Bates over a remake of a 60-year-old film, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Also: "I just did a film with Sophia Loren, directed by Lina Wertmuller. It's called The House of Geraniums. I play her lover. I get to kiss her. Full on the lips."

The screen Salieri admitted he was thinking of returning to theatre in a piece, written by and co-starring Christopher D'Amboise, son of Jacques. It's untitled at the moment.

Tom Hulce, who had the Oscar-nominated role of Amadeus opposite Abraham, is currently making his debut as a film producer, financing Mayer's first fling at the medium, A Home at the End of the World, starring Colin Farrell, Off-Broadway's Dallas Roberts, Robin Wright-Penn and Sissy Spacek. He also lent his L.A. home to Mayer so Krause and Gugino could get a slight jump before regular rehearsals began in New York

As it was, said the director, "We had a ridiculously short time to rehearse—19 rehearsals and four days of tech—because of Peter's shooting schedule for his series. It was crazy. That's the fastest show I've ever done for Broadway—and one of the fastest shows I've done anywhere, really—other than the Hanger Theatre, where I had only 12 rehearsals."

Author Miller spent the whole party huddled in a corner booth with Sam Cohn and Co. Beside him was a 32-year-old painter, Agnes Barlow, who identified herself to one inquiring reporter as Miller's "partner." Ah, hope and Arthur Miller spring eternal...

Arthur Miller joins the cast of <i>After the Fall</i> onstage after the opening night performance
Arthur Miller joins the cast of After the Fall onstage after the opening night performance Photo by Aubrey Reuben