"After the Fall" is Arthur Miller's thinly disguised autobiographical play about life with Marilyn Monroe, and if the Roundabout Theatre Company's numbingly vanilla revival reveals anything, it's why the 1964 drama so rarely claws its way back onto the American stage.
This version of the play, substantially revised since the original production with Jason Robards and Hal Holbrook, is directed by Michael Mayer, who was widely praised a few years back for his staging of another Miller work, "A View From the Bridge." After crossing that bridge, Mayer seems to have misplaced his map. His latest encounter with Miller reveals a slipshod dependence on slickness at the expense of anything close to psychological nuance.
Such fine, seasoned actors as Jessica Hecht and Mark Nelson find themselves trapped in the production's irrelevant conceits; the play is set now, for reasons only an air traffic controller could explain, in an airport departure lounge modeled on Eero Saarinen's classically sleek TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport.
Other actors are prisoners of nothing but their own limitations. In this regard, the chief inmate is the leading man, Peter Krause. On HBO's "Six Feet Under," he's the dour heartthrob with the manly stubble. In "After the Fall," which opened last night at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre, he barely manifests a pulse.
What passes for smoky coolness on a television screen registers onstage as rampaging blandness. Krause, who in the program counts a master's degree in fine arts from New York University among his credits, lacks any finer feel for the stage, or else the time spent in front of the TV cameras has obliterated any trace of technique. The play is another attempt by Miller to put a man's psyche and moral compass under the microscope, but Mayer has perversely cast an actor whose most notable characteristic is impenetrability.
With this blank performance at its core, the production has zero chance of leaving the gate. (The level at which the set design works best is the license it gives to reviewers to make disparaging allusions to air travel.) Mind you, any director and cast would experience formidable challenges in invigorating this dated drama, with its penchant for the confessional and 1960s mind-set about the mysteries of the analyst's couch.
The story all occurs, in fact, in the mind of Krause's Quentin as he rummages in the attic of his boyhood traumas and grown-up inadequacies and family dysfunctions. His distastefully ego-driven quest here is coming to terms with the Holocaust, McCarthyism and his marriage to poor, doomed Maggie (Carla Gugino), the troubled, voluptuous club singer and obvious stand-in for Marilyn.
Changing the setting from a meeting with an unseen therapist to the airport terminal, where Quentin is waiting for the arrival of another girlfriend, merely adds another level of artifice; the sense of oppressiveness is amplified (deafeningly) by the roar overhead of jet engines, used to punctuate transitions in what is essentially a self-serving memory play.
As Quentin's first wife, Hecht offers the most deftly delineated portrayal, even if it's also a sour one. Gugino, another visitor from televisionland (ABC's "Karen Sisco") gives a perky if plastic account of Maggie. Then there's Krause, delivering the platitudes of "After the Fall" as if his character, like his jaw, were chiseled from stone.
After the Fall, by Arthur Miller. Directed by Michael Mayer. Set, Richard Hoover; costumes, Michael Krass; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Dan Moses Schreier. With Vivienne Benesch, Kathleen McNenny, Ken Marks, Mark Nelson, Jonathan Walker, Dan Ziskie. Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes. Through Sept. 12 at American Airlines Theatre, Manhattan. Call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org.