I didn’t major in theater. In fact, aside from a few great experiences doing high school plays, I had nothing to do with theater until I took my first acting class at 24. I never took Theater History, a seminar on Great Plays, or even a survey of dramatic literature. As a result, there are many, shameful gaps in my theater knowledge.
The benefit of this ignorance is that I now occasionally have the pleasure of going to the theater, as a 10-year veteran actor, and encountering a classic play for the very first time. And it is such a pleasure, I have to tell you. To be in the hands of a master playwright with no preconceived notion of how the story will or should unfold is utterly delicious. Especially when the production is good and the cast remarkable. As was the case last week with Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge on Broadway.
So, full disclosure # 1: I’m a huge Arthur Miller fan. I mean, how can you not be? He’s amazing. I know there must be people out there who say they don’t like Miller, but I think they must be lying in order to sound contrary and cool. In fact, I like Arthur Miller so much that if you don’t like Arthur Miller, I am deeply suspicious of you and I don’t think we can be friends. I’m just sayin’. Granted, I only know four of his thirty-five or so stage plays. But those four – All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and now A View from the Bridge – are more than enough to make up for even a million lesser attempts.
Full disclosure # 2: I know the guy who plays Rodolpho in this production. In fact, I’m guessing 3 out of 4 of my readers either know the guy who plays Rodolpho, or happen to be the guy himself. He’s an ACT alum named Morgan Spector and for the 25% of you aren’t acquainted with him, there are two things you should know: 1) he landed his plum role by way of a true Cinderella story, as an understudy called to replace the original actor after an injury forced him to leave the show; and 2) what eclipses that good fortune is Morgan’s great talent and hard work. He is the very epitome of the idea that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation. Mad props.
Full disclosure #3: Antoinette LaVecchia of How to Be a Good Italian Daughter (In Spite of Myself) is also in the ensemble cast. She had me in stitches over drinks post-show and a lovelier, funnier woman cannot be found, well, anywhere. (Incidentally, this means I now have two pathways that make me exactly 2 degrees separated from both Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson. I admit I take great delight in that.)
Okay, have I gotten this far without really writing about the play? Gee, my posts are getting lengthy. I guess I like to hear myself write.
So here’s the thing. The great Miller plays are like the Golden Ratio. They are perfectly proportioned and possess a rhythm and beauty that reflect some kind of inherent natural order. It sounds hyperbolic, but I think I mean it more literally than you imagine.
Take a look at the Fibonacci spiral, a geometric figure that approximates the proportions of the Golden Ratio and is famously exhibited in nature by the nautilus shell. Overall, the shape is simple and pleasing to look at. Although not symmetrical and potentially infinite in size, there is a balance to the figure that makes it feel complete. Looking closer, there is more pleasure to be derived in noticing the structure of the shape. Each turn of the spiral is a proportionally identical curve, and each curve relates to the ones before and after it in exactly the same proportional way. Finally, there is a tension in the spiral that is compelling, if not exactly pleasurable. It begins in what feels like an expansive amount of space, but then quickly – very quickly – it turns inward, tighter and tighter, into what feels like an impossibly small little knot. Something vast and free becomes something cramped and definite in the blink of an eye.
So it is with Miller. The four great plays I named all possess those same qualities. Asymmetrical – no bookending scenes or coming full circle, just a linear march through time – but balanced and complete. Pleasingly simple overall, but possessing careful structure that unfolds in a proportional way. A compelling tension, both pleasing and not pleasurable at all, of an inescapable fate coming nearer and nearer with every turn of the plot. In other words, a man – Eddie Carbone, Willy Loman, John Proctor, Joe Keller – once possessed of a future that was vast and free, turns inward again and again upon his own fatal flaws, and thus marches towards a cramped and definite end of his own making.
Wow. I just made that up right now. But I think it’s pretty good. I think I might be a genius. I think I’ll sit here all smug and proud. That is until someone with a theater history education notices, discredits me, and I implode into a private spiral of shame. Because pride does go before the fall. Just ask Willy Loman, John Proctor, or Eddie Carbone.