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Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Connecting with Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller
Miller is widely considered the foremost American dramatist of the past half century
Veteran playwright Arthur Miller's new play, Mr Peters' Connections, received its European premiere at London's Almeida Theatre on Wednesday.

Miller, 84, widely considered the foremost American dramatist of the past half century, was in London for the opening.

The new work follows his acclaimed 1991 play, The Ride Down Mount Morgan, which enjoyed a successful run in London's West End.

The author of such influential plays as Death of a Salesman, The Crucible and All My Sons, was awarded the 1999 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Warren Mitchell as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman
Warren Mitchell as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman
Mr Peters' Connections stars Northern Exposure and ER actor John Cullum. It follows a man as he reflects on his life in contemporary Manhattan.

He remembers some of the people he knew, from his glory days as a fighter pilot during World War II to the present day.

"Some people in the play are dead, some are imaginary, some he's just noticed on the street, some are living now," Miller explained to Francine Stock on BBC Radio 4's Front Row.

Remembering Marilyn

The ambiguous figure of Kathy May - who could be a former lover or a wife - apppears as a ghost.

She adores the attention of the crowd but also suffers from feelings of rejection.

The audience may find her reminiscent of screen idol Marilyn Monroe, who was married to the playwright for five years.

Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe
Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe divorced in 1961
Miller doesn't deny the connection. This resemblance, he says, points to a central theme of the play:

"This is how our brains work, they make connections." Monroe, he adds, reappears in his work because she was part of his life.

The play dramatises the confusion of people and events. "Stage time is a fake, pretending everything happens at one level of reality, when we're bombarded with time-lapses or leaps," Miller explains.

Innovator

Miller took a risk by using non-linear time in Death of a Salesman, first performed in 1949, and won a Pulitzer prize for it.

But, he says, "technically speaking" his earlier plays "would not get on to Broadway now" due to the expense. The Crucible requires a cast of 25-plus actors.

"It costs $1m dollars to put a play on now," he says adding that few producers are willing to risk a commercial flop, however artistically inventive a play is.


The broader the audience the better it is for the theatre. The audience has narrowed more and more.

Arthur Miller
There is, Miller says, greater pressure than ever to stage crowd-pleasers. "Death of a Salesman is too sad," Miller remarks wryly.

Miller believes strongly in a publicly-subsidised theatre. He says: "Social support for the art has to increase.

"This is a crisis but nobody wants to admit it." He comments that audiences want to see drama but are not willing if tickets cost $60 (40) on Broadway.

The Crucible

At the height of the Cold War in 1953, Miller wrote The Crucible as a comment on the ferocious pursuit of suspected communist sympathisers.

He set the play in 17th century New England gripped by hysteria over devil-worship.

As the presiding judge decides whether individuals are witches, so Senator McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee demanded to know if those summoned were or ever had been communists.

Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller
Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller before the McCarthyite era
In 1956, Arthur Miller appeared before the committee. "They wanted to believe that the hunt for Reds was unprecedented in the history of the world. That it was a unique holy hunt," he remembers.

He speaks of the "terror that existed then" and how it would be difficult to recreate that sense now. "I would have to be sardonic about it," he says.

No joke

One scene points to the comic consequences of McCarthy's hearings.

Miller recalls: "The day before I was to appear before the Un-American Activities Committee the chairman said if Marilyn Monroe would take a photo with him he would cancel the hearing."

When Miller refused, the senator "proceeded to pretend that I was a menace to the country".

"How could you put that on the stage without laughing?," he asks, adding: "I was sentenced to prison but the whole thing was thrown out of a higher court. It was no joke, many people did go to jail."

Asked if it was harder to write plays about politics today he points to the absence of a "single cataclysmic event threatening us".

"To write plays that have a neat conclusion is harder because the moral universe is so dispersed now," he says.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
John Cullum in Mr Peters' Connections
Click here to listen to a clip from Arthur Miller's new play
Miller talks to Francine Stock - Radio 4's Front Row
"Writing plays with a neat conclusion is harder now"
Miller on Monroe characters in his plays
"It's impossible to avoid this"
Miller on how he deals with time in his plays
"This is how our brains work, they make connections"
Miller on the economics of staging plays
The earlier plays "would not get on to Broadway now"
Miller on McCarthy's witch-hunts
"It was no joke, many people did go to jail"
See also:

01 May 00 | Entertainment
Stewart slates show producers
05 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Broadway's curtain call
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