We go to the theatre to be entertained, but this is not a passive enjoyment. The audience filters the images and emotions from the stage and connects them with its own private world. The process of theatre-going becomes a community activity through which we can remember who we are and how we are, where we can touch the past and the present.
— Theatre critic John Lahr
Arthur Miller (1915 - 2005) was a great advocate of dramas where characters struggled with themselves, with others, and with the challenges of the American Dream. One of the best resources available on the life and creative work of this controversial meaning-maker is Arthur Miller: Writer, a HBO documentary directed by his actress daughter Rebecca Miller, a talented filmmaker.
She shines a light on his ambitions, his yearning to change the direction of America, his political ideals and his penchant for infusing his plays with passion, guilt, suffering, and redemption. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Death of a Salesman, Miller focuses on Willy Loman, a down and nearly out man who has pursued the American Dream to the end of the rainbow.
In 1953, the playwright translated the anger he felt being questioned by the Committee on Un-American Activities into a drama called The Crucible based on the Salem witch trials. His first Broadway success came with All My Sons, a morally energized drama revolving around service to the nation. After the Fall (1964) was based on his marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe.
A startling revelation in Arthur Miller: Writer is that between 1968 and 2004, Miller wrote more than 20 plays which were rejected by critics and considered out of sync with younger audiences. It is a very telling moment when he confesses, "I didn't feel there was anybody out there who was interested. I felt I was shouting into a barrel."
A Spiritual Practice
Anyone who has seen Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman will resonate with the following comment by Anthony Brandt. As you probe this text, ask yourself what you feel about the American Dream and your most recent experience of it.
"Our meaning as Americans lies less in whom we spring from than in whom we are in the process of becoming. Such meaning is necessarily vague: to be specific would entail setting limits to the Dream, reducing the range of possibilities. The governing idea is that we are — America is — all possibilities. Everyday is open, unlimited: the Dream stretches endlessly and forever toward the horizon. the lure of 'more' and 'better' pushing us on. No matter what we accomplish. individually or of collectively, it lies collectively out of reach. Consequently we can never wake up."