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Volume 70, Issue 79, Thursday, January 27, 2005

Life & Arts

Alley succeeds with Miller's obscure 'Fall'

Performers capture past friends, lovers of prestigious playwright

By James P. Davis
The Daily Cougar

To anyone with even a cursory knowledge of theater, the name Arthur Miller should ring a few bells. His biography is as momentous as his writing, and his play After the Fall offers audiences a fusion of the two, exploring troubled past, political persecution and tumultuous love affair with Marilyn Monroe.

As part of a citywide celebration of Miller's 90th birthday, the Alley Theatre is putting on a production of After the Fall running through Feb. 6. Debuting on Broadway in 1964, the play broke Miller's 9-year hiatus after the release of A View From the Bridge. Though one of Miller's less recognized or produced works, the play is nonetheless a significant entry in his repertoire.

The play's characters are thinly veiled representations of key figures in Miller's life. Quentin (James Black), the protagonist, is a blatant symbol for Miller, and Maggie (Elizabeth Heflin), the torch-singing love interest, is obviously Monroe. 

Arthur Miller's play After the Fall is currently running at the Alley Theatre until Feb. 6. In the play, the characters Quentin (James Black) and Maggie (Elizabeth Heflin) demonstrate Miller's feelings on his relationship with the late Marilyn Monroe.
Photo courtesy of the Alley Theatre

The plot centers on the limits of Quentin's ability to love and how his unlikely relationship with Maggie revives his hope and passion. The audience sees Quentin cling to a lifeless marriage with Louise (Josie de Guzman), fall in love with Maggie, leave his marriage to support Maggie during her ascent to stardom and struggle with her substance abuse and increasingly erratic behavior.

Romance is not by any means the story's sole focus, and audiences will be amazed by Miller's ability to move smoothly from flashbacks of Quentin's parents quarreling over money to scenes commenting on World War II. The diverse subject matter all seems to relate back to Quentin's inability to connect with others: the distance he feels from his parents, his lack of loyalty to his Communist friends, his inability to empathize for Holocaust victims. Quentin strives for high moral objectivity and neglects his relationships in the process.

An ambitious undertaking, the Alley's rendition of After the Fall lives up to the theater's standard of excellence. The acting is fantastic with cast members who portray the characters' fears and desires with equal intensity. Heflin shows the multidimensionality of a Marilyn Monroe-type character, a naïve but fascinating pop culture icon. Black's portrayal of Quentin captures the essence of Arthur Miller, a tortured intellectual wracked with guilt. The supporting actors' performances are equally poignant, particularly de Guzman's portrayal of a neglected housewife whose patience is wearing thin.

Technically, the play exhibits its strengths as well. There are no set changes during either of the play's two acts, but the location of the action changes numerous times from a courtroom to a concentration camp. The set's versatile design allows the audience to follow such scenic transitions without becoming distracted from the action or dialogue. Besides being practical, the set is a work of art: a cluttered living room, a dingy subway tunnel, an elegant white bedroom framed by a jagged concrete wall ' all woven seamlessly together.

Suffice it so say that director Gregory Boyd has done justice to one of Miller's most complex and problematic plays. The subject matter may seem unapproachable, but anyone with an appreciation of theater craft or literature could appreciate this production.

Tickets range from $19 to $52 and can be purchased by calling (713) 228-8421 or online at

After the Fall

Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.

Playing: Feb. 6

Verdict: A demanding production, Alley's Fall was worth the effort.

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