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Remembering Arthur Miller

One of America's Greatest Playwrights

Molly Smith
Artistic Director, Arena Stage
Friday, February 11, 2005; 4:15 PM

Arthur Miller, 89, the playwright whose authorship of such theater classics as "Death of a Salesman," "The Crucible," "All My Sons," and "A View from the Bridge," made him a giant of the 20th century American stage, died yesterday of heart failure in Roxbury, Conn., his assistant Julia Bolus said.

Legendary Playwright Arthur Miller Dies (Post, Feb. 11)

Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., was online Friday, Feb. 11, at 4:15 p.m. ET to discuss the life and work of playwright Arthur Miller and his contribution to American theater.

Smith directed directed Arena's revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" in 1999. The theater has staged 11 productions of Miller's work during its 55-year history.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Molly Smith will begin momentarily. Please stay with us.


Monterey, Calif.: Americans have lost a true friend with the passing of Arthur Miller. He was willing to do what only a true friend will: hold up the mirror to expose our uniquely American cultural shadow to the light of day -- in the hope of freeing us from its grip.

With the current direction of business and politics, we all need to revisit "Death of A Salesman" as much today as ever.

I hope Mr. Miller's death will inspire leaders in theater like yourself to bring his plays front and center again.

Molly Smith: Arthur Miller is one of my favorite playwrights. As a theatre focused on American plays Arena has produced his works 11 times from an amazing DEATH OF A SALESMAN with Bob Prosky to ALL MY SONS a few seasons ago. Remarkable that his plays always seem contemporary.


Anonymous: Which do you think are Arthur Miller's best plays?

Molly Smith: Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, All My Sons, The Price and I've always loved After the Fall.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi, Molly,

Do you find it odd that so many of the articles out there today about Arthur focus on "Death of a Salesman" instead of "Crucible"? Is it just that in the popular consciousness Salesman is easier to understand?


Molly Smith: I do think it's odd. The Crucible is such an important play and one that seems more potent with each generation. I think it would be particularly appropriate to stage it now...


Boston, Mass.: Has Miller remained relevant in the modern theater world since his great triumphs of the 1960's? The respect for his work has always been strong, of course, but I am curious on how his new works were viewed in the theatrical community (by both reviewers and artists.)

Molly Smith: I do think his new works like RIDING DOWN MOUNT MORGAN are quite relevant but often in more personal rather than political arenas. Perhaps this is why his older plays have more juice for artists and critics. What I love is that he continued writing for over 60 years. He always had another play percolating in him.


Outback: How long did Arthur Miller and Marlyn Monroe last as a couple?

Are there any good accounts of their relationship that you are aware of?

Molly Smith: I think they were only together for a few years but I can only imagine how amazing those years were. TIMEBENDS, Miller's autobiography is awfully good; he always spoke about her with great love, kindness and respect.


Frederick, Md.: I read Miller's play "The Crucible" when I was a high school sophomore. Although not historically accurate in the academic sense, I thought it was interesting how he used the trials in reflection of what was happening in the early 1960s.

Molly Smith: Yes, and wouldn't it be interesting to experience the play right now. America always seems to have some public political trial going on that would make THE CRUCIBLE powerful


Alexandria, Va.: Didn't Miller just complete a sequel to "After the Fall"? I can't remember the name of it. Also, do you plan to stage a Miller production in honor of him, sometime soon?

Molly Smith: Because we are a theatre focused on American plays, his work comes up every year as a possibility. He is one of our greats alongside Williams, Albee, O'Neill, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. His most recent play, FINISHING THE PICTURE, directed by Robert Falls at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, was the sequel to AFTER THE FALL.


Woodbridge, Va.: Any interesting personal anecdotes about Mr. Miller? Who among today's playwrights might someday approach the stature of Arthur Miller in the American cultural landscape?

Molly Smith: Certainly Edward Albee and August Wilson(with his ten play cycle).


U.S.: Why do you think it is that Americans have learned so little from Arthur Miller's works like "Death of A Salesman" when it holds such wisdom that could improve our lives and our culture?

Molly Smith: I guess this is why his plays continue to resonate. We still have much to learn from him. As we watch what is happening to the Social Security system and the working class vs. the rich, Miller's words and ideas continue to be as contemporary as the front page.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. Miller was a giant. Would you rank him with O'Neill as the greatest of American playwrights?

Molly Smith: I certainly would. And I'd add Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Eugene O'Neill, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe to the list. Miller had an uncanny ability to illuminate social conscience and responsibility and remind us of our better selves.


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