AFTER THE FALL, by Arthur Miller. Directed by Zelda Fichandler. Setting by Karl Eigsti; costumes, Marjorie Slaiman; lighting, Hugh Lester; incidental music, Robert Dennis. At Arena Stage through March 30.
Nearly two decades after the death of Marilyn Monroe, it may be possible to view Arthur Miller's transparently autobiographical drama "After the Fall" with some critical detachment, separating the play from public legend and controversy.
Despite the striking, sensitive production which opened at Arena Stage last night, "After the Fall" remains a flawed play. It is a hair-shirt confessional drenched with guilt and an overlong search for self-justification. Yet it does have its searing scenes of real anguish and its harrowing moments of self-knowledge.
The Arena revival brings these home with impact to the crescendo of the last scene, in which the blond love goddess and her intellectual husband try to destroy each other in a cross-barrage of accusations.
After the Fall," first staged in New York in early 1964, less than a year and a half after Marilyn Monroe's suicide, takes place in the mind of Quentin, a liberal lawyer, who is a thin camouflage for Miller himself.
In this way, Miller can shift freely in both time and locale. Using the flashback technique so effectively employed in "Death of a Salesman," the playwright jumps back and forth to Quintin's childhood, first marriage, friendships with lawyers under congressional investigation, his fascination with the innocence of the sex enchantress -- all these events then kaleidoscoping into the present time and a new romance.
And, like a one-man Greek chorus, Quentin delivers a running commentary to the audience as the scenes of past and present are juxtaposed.
The Miller revival marks the return of Zelda Fichandler, Arena's founder, to a directing stint after concentrating time and energy on her administrative role as producing director.
"After the Fall" is a play whose course is strongly determined by the direction. Fichandler, using the four-sided Arena stage to perfection, brings a marvelous fluidity and movement to the rapidly changing scenes springing from Quentin's thoughts and emotions.
The setting by Karl Eigsti is tailored beautifully to the production. A double-tiered black-marble slab (which becomes the bed of the second act) dominates the stage. There is a minimum of other props, a few fragments of brick walls, steps, benches.
As Quentin, Stanley Anderson takes on a role that is demanding both physically and emotionally. He has to be on the stage throughout the three-hour drama and most of that time is spent in personal anguish. Sometimems his heartiness and wryness belie the haunted man, but Anderson is electric in the last explosive scene.
Linda Lee Johnson makes an impressive Arena debut as Maggie. In the last scenes, she is a match for Quentin as the self-destructive, pill-popping, liquor-swilling pop singing star. As the earlier Maggie, she has to deal with Miller's lines that make her sound more emptyheaded than innocent and child-like.
The production is bolstered by the strength of the supporting cast, including Robert Prosky as the father, Leslie Cass as the mother, Halo Wines as the first wife, Mark Hammer and Richard Bauer as lawyer friends, and Inga Bunsch as the German woman who will become Quentin's third wife.
Fichandler had to stage "After the Fall" twice -- first for the proscenium-style stage of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, where the Arena production has its premiere earlier this month, and then for the four-sided stage in Washington.