After the Fall
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Charles Jarrett

What makes Arthur Miller one of America’s greatest playwrights is his ability to depict some of the most painful aspects of human nature with a brutal honesty that sears his audiences. For those not willing to face that pain, the searing simply leaves them burnt out and they exit the theatre shaking their heads and mumbling under their breaths. Those willing to take the dark journey that a Miller drama demands, however, find a light at the end of the tunnel. For them the searing is more like the mythical phoenix bird that, once consumed by his own fire, is reborn.

Playhouse West’s production of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall invites you on this fiery journey in what is probably one of Miller’s most self-revealing plays. The drama, written in 1964, is loosely based on the author’s life, including his tumultuous relationship with Marilyn Monroe. Quentin, played by Charles Lanyer, is a fictionalized Miller and Maggie (Heather Mathieson) is a fictionalized Monroe. But the important thing to remember about the creative process is that an author must first distance himself from the real life experience. This is usually done through a combination of time and the creation of fictional characters who, though they resemble real people in the author’s life, provide enough of an abstraction for the author to explore the highs and lows of their characters with an honesty he would be incapable of if writing about the real people. In this way the fictional drama he creates is more real than the real life drama he experienced.

Through the eyes of Quentin, the author looks at his own life and failed marriages. He takes the audience on a journey that includes his parents and his growing up, but the most poignant focus is on his first wife Louise (Katherine Lee) and his second wife Maggie. They are two totally different women, but in the end of each relationship, their isolation is the same – a result for which Quentin blames himself. The journey delves into the many mysteries of relationships including the “I” verses the “we,” guilt and innocence, and through a series of revelations, Quentin finally accepts the ultimate responsibility that he is incapable of love.

Through the art of fiction, Miller has painted a memorable portrait of himself and Monroe, but the drama is not limited to that. As the play unfolds, we all see bits of ourselves in the characters, and those of us willing to make the journey feel that our burdens have been lightened in some mysterious way bordering on truth. It’s not an easy journey, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

The entire cast of this Playhouse West production is excellent with Lanyer and Mathieson perfect for the parts of Quentin and Maggie. Since the entire play takes place in Quentin’s memory, there is a surreal, dreamlike quality to the drama that director Lois Grandi explores in a very insightful way, inviting the audience to explore their own memories as they watch Quentin’s unfold on the stage.

This production is being performed at the Dean Lesher Regional Center, Knight Stage 3. For tickets call: (925) 943-SHOW. For further information call: (925) 942-0300.

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