AFTER THE FALL -- At the Arena through March 30.
After the Fall, Arthur Miller's rape of the corpse of Marilyn Monroe, is a good short little play hidden inside a bad big long one. The current revival at Arena Stage is proof that a fine cast can make even a turkey sing.
"In this play," Miller has said, "the question is, what is there between people that is indestructible?" The answer is that Miller doesn't know. What he does know is that, dead or alive, MM is great box-office, and has been since a sleeping pill ended her life in August of 1962. He has wrapped her in a transparent shroud of pseudophilosophy that reveals nothing about her that we didn't already know -- or sense -- but that tells a hell of a lot about him.
It may be that Miller was honestly trying to bare his heart and soul in the play. If that is so the result is all the more devastating of him, for while Fall pretends to be gutsy it is simply gusty. Cut to 45 minutes (from three hours), the thing would probably play as a better-than-fair TV one-timer about a well-meaning, pompous jerk trying and failing to find himself in the eyes of the people around him. But Marilyn would have to go, along with a dozen of the other characters, the concentration-camp bathos, the House Un-American Activities Committee, the death of the parlor-pinko dream . . . u
But enough about Miller and his angst -- the company assembled on Arena Stage manages to triumph over all that. Stanley Anderson is superb as Quentin, tireless although he is never offstage for a moment and is seldom allowed to rest his splendid voice between such lines as "Nobody they [the Nazis] didn't kill can ever be innocent again," and "But I can't find myself in all this vanity anymore."
He gets wonderful support throughout the first act from Joanne Hrkach as Felice and from a busload (16) of players, including Inga Bunsch (Holga) and Robert Prosky (Father), whose roles range from irrelevant to dumb but who nevertheless all pitch in to keep the thing going until Linda Lee Johnson comes onstage as Maggie (Marilyn).
Johnson makes the role soar. She is built better than Marilyn to begin with -- or at least uses her body more effectively -- and within minutes of her arrival onstage there comes the realization that this is the actress Monroe always wanted to be.
Monroe gave "her public" everything she had, body And soul. It wasn't all that much, but all she seemed to be asking in return was a lot of affection and a little respect.
Her brief little life was a Technicolor extravaganza demonstrating a sad truth: A girl who is born beautiful is unlikely to be known well, let alone loved well.
Johnson must have paid the price of becoming a person although beautiful, because her portrayal of Monroe appears to rise from deep within herself; and it comes out with such power that even Miller's cruel lines cannot cripple it. She makes a unity of the kaleidoscopic fragments, bright and somber, that Monroe left us.