The Man Behind “Death of a Salesman”, Arthur Miller

American Playwright Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller, The Playwright

Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915, in New York City, to his  Jewish parents, Isidore and Augusta Miller. Arthur lived a comfortable middle class life until age fourteen when the Great Depression struck and his family’s business failed. In high school,Arthur was more actively involved in football and other sports than in his studies. After several rejected applications, Miller was finally admitted to the University of Michigan in 1934, where he studied journalism, economics and history.  It was also in college that Miller discovered his love for play writing and in his junior year, he won $250 in a college play writing contest. Miller graduated from college in 1938 with a   degree in English. In 1940 Miller married his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery.

 During World War II, Miller worked on ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and wrote plays for the Columbia Broadcasting System. In 1944, he received his first theatrical break when his play The Man Who Had All the Luck was staged on Broadway. Unfortunately it was not well received. At age 30, Miller  decided to give play writing one last try and diligently spent the next two years writing the play All My Sons, that was co-produced by stage and film director Elia Kazan, who helped him focus and polish the work. All My Sons enjoyed a profitable run of 328 performances and won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award and inspired Miller to carry on with his play writing. But it was with Death of a Salesman that Miller’s reputation as an outstanding play wright was solidified. With Death of a Salesman, Miller became famous. However despite his remarkable success, he  continued to focus his writing on the struggles of the common person—social, economic, political, and personal. In the 1940s and 1950s, the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States created a mood of fear and suspicion. In particular, political, social, and business leaders were increasingly concerned that  communism threatened the American “way of life.” 

Herbert Block, who signed his work “Herblock”, coined the term “McCarthyism” in this cartoon in The Washington Post

In 1950 Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), whose mission it was to uncover forces that would subvert this American way of life, started focusing on the intellectual and artisticcommunity in order to find potential communist influences. HUAC targeted both Miller and director Kazan. Citing artistic freedom as his rationale, he refused to cooperate with HUAC that he believed was censoring the critical voice of the American people. Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress but this was later repealed on account that he had not been informed adequately of the risks involved in incurring contempt. Miller’s  response to the anti-Communist fear and hysteria was The Crucible, where he merged the terror tactics of McCarthyism with the Salem witch hunts of the 17th century.  The Crucible which premiered on Broadway in 1953, became Miller’s most frequently produced play, staged every week somewhere in the world for the past 40 years. It was dramatized on television and in 1996, he adapted the script to a screenplay and the movie was released with his son-in-law, academy award winning  actor, Daniel Day Lewis starring as John Proctor.

“I wished to create a form which, in itself as a form, would literally be the process of Willy Loman’s way of mind. I wished to speak of the salesman most precisely as I felt about him, to give no part of that feeling away for the sake of any effect or any dramatic necessity.”

~Arthur Miller

 In 1956, Miller divorced his first wife Mary, and soon after married actress Marilyn Monroe. However this marriage was short-lived and Miller and Monroe divorced in 1961, a year before Monroe’s death due to drug overdose. Soon after his divorce, Miller met Inge Morath, a  Vienna-born photographer and they were married in February 1962. Miller and Morath spent 40 years together till her death in 2002. In the mid-60s, Miller focused on political activism, becoming the President of PEN, an international writer’s organizing of poets, playwrights, editors, essayists, and novelists. In 1968 he resumed play writing with The Price, a work about the two brothers who cannot overcome their anger with each other. The play enjoyed moderate success. In the 1970s, Miller wrote three plays: The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972), TheAmerican Clock (1976), and The Archbishop’s Ceiling (1977).

The productions of all three works were harshly criticized. During the 1980s,  Arthur Miller’s works experienced a worldwide revival. In 1983, Miller and his wife traveled to Beijing, China to see a production of Death of a Salesman.  Miller never quite enjoyed the success he had in the 40s and the 50s and his last few plays had very short runs on the stage. In his eighties, Miller kept writing social dramas, still driven by the desire to represent the wants, struggles, and frustration of common people. The characters in his plays act out human concerns that are universal. Miller called on his characters to take responsibility for their actions and act on the world that they live in; he rejected self-pity in his characters, no matter how dire their circumstance.

Arthur Miller passed away at the age of 89 on February 10, 2005, surrounded by his family. When he was  dying, he asked to be driven back from New York to New England, where he had written most of his plays. To mourn his death, lights were dimmed on Broadway. Source for this article: www.oldglobe.org

Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Death of a Salesman will run April 26-May 12, 2013. To purchase tickets call (501) 378-0405 or visit www.therep.org

Article written by Werner Trieschmann

Rep’s 12-13 Season to Set Sail in September

“We welcome you to set sail with us in September through a season of exciting contrasts; plays and musicals that demand to live on a stage and that reflect theatrical storytelling at its most dynamic and creative,” says Bob Hupp, Producing Artistic Director at Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

“We’ll celebrate the triumph of the human spirit and reveal incredible art in the ordinary, while also exploring the dark side of the American Dream. We’ll experience epic tales as one young leader strives for redemption and power while another becomes caught up in a dangerous world not of his making. And we’ll laugh and sing along with the warm nostalgia of holidays gone by and a hysterical adult comedy in two completely different but utterly charming musical productions,” says Hupp. “Every season is a journey, but this season is truly an adventure.”

THE 2012-2013 MAINSTAGE SEASON

“From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” William Shakespeare’s Henry V will open The Rep’s season and run September 7 – September 23, 2012.

Directed by Robert Hupp, Henry V is at once an indictment of war and a testament to valor in the face of overwhelming odds as an adventurous young king must grapple with absolute power.

With the death of his father, young King Henry casts off the trappings of youthful misadventures and transforms into a leader of men. With his country wracked by strife, mocked by the French and eager to assert his birthright, Henry launches a rash invasion that culminates in the fateful battle of Agincourt.

Weary and grossly outnumbered, the English face near certain defeat, but Henry’s inspirational leadership turns the tide of war and turns a man into a legend. The power of Henry V lies in its contradictions: Valor and cruelty, greed and generosity, honor and treachery.These contradictions make the play immediately accessible to a modern audience and help bring the characters to vivid life on the stage.

“From his confrontation with the close friends who betray him to his wooing of the French princess, Henry V is such a compelling character,” says Hupp. “A young king, untested, driven by ambition, strives for redemption and power through the cauldron of war and redefines his world in the process.”

Up next is The Rep’s Young Artists’ Production, an annual performance by The Rep’s SMTI (Summer Musical Theatre Intensive) theatre training program October 24 – November 3, 2012. The most talented young artists in the state always deliver some of the most feel good shows of the season!

Conceived and directed by The Rep’s Resident Director and Director of Education Nicole Capri, this year’s show is all about the actor’s journey from stardust to stardom and is titled “Singin’ on a Star.” These young artists will celebrate a rite of passage to the Broadway stage – waiting tables! With song selections from the pop charts and the Great White Way, The Rep’s starving young artists sing about big dreams in the big apple this fall.

“The Rep’s Young Artists have established themselves as a defining characteristic of this theatre. Their enthusiasm and spirit leaps across the footlights and combines with their amazing talent to create unforgettable experiences each season,” says Hupp.

Celebrate the holidays with a musical as fresh as the season’s first snow. You’ll want to snuggle up with the entire family for this funny and heartwarming musical adaptation of the perennially popular Paramount Pictures classic, White Christmas, running November 30 – December 30, 2012 and directed by Nicole Capri.

Following World War II, a pair of song and dance men with romance on their minds follow a duo of beautiful singing sisters en route to their Christmas show at a Vermont inn. Once they arrive, they realize the inn is owned by their old Army commander and a lack of seasonal precipitation has the inn facing hard times.

Through delightful plot twists and a dazzling Irving Berlin score that includes “Blue Skies,” “I Love a Piano,” “Happy Days,” “It’s Cold Outside” and of course, “White Christmas,” the fellows launch an all-out campaign to save the inn and win the sisters’ hearts.

White Christmas is the perfect holiday musical,” says Hupp. “It’s a trip down memory lane for those who remember the music and the movie, and it’s sure to inspire new appreciation for the timeless songs of Irving Berlin – one of America’s greatest composers – for younger generations.”

The new year brings another new production to The Rep stage with Gee’s Bend, written by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder and directed by Gilbert McCauley, January 25 – February 10, 2013.

Confronting segregation, the Civil Rights Movement and family turmoil, Gee’s Bend follows the life of Sadie Pettway and the women in her sewing circle, who turn to quilting to provide comfort and creative expression to their lives.

What begins as a labor of love and necessity soon turns into a spiritual and artistic awakening. Pieced from discarded clothes and seasoned with laughter and tears, the women sew a patchwork of inventive abstract designs in rich, blazing colors. Stitch by stitch, the stories of these strong women are revealed as their experiences unravel and inspire them to create what the New York Times would call “miraculous works of modern art.”

Gee’s Bend celebrates the triumph of the human spirit and reveals art in the ordinary,” says Hupp. “The unique story of the quilts of Gee’s Bend is an inspiration and we are proud to tell this uplifting story on The Rep stage.”

The true story of the women of Gee’s Bend has already touched millions who viewed their stunning work through a national exhibition tour and features in Newsweek and Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” have been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.

Just in time for spring, The Rep will set sail on the adventure of a lifetime: the world premiere of Treasure Island, A New Musical, March 8 – March 31, 2013.

Through the eyes of its young hero, Treasure Island, A New Musical reexamines the essence of heroism, the journey to manhood and the strength of the human spirit.

Directed and choreographed by Brett Smock, with book by Brett Smock and Carla Vitale and music and lyrics by Corinne Aquilina, this musical offers a fresh, new take on the famous story by Robert Louis Stevenson, set to a thrilling musical score and full of action, adventure and excitement as treasure hungry pirates and mutinous crew battle to discover the coveted Isle of Treasure.

Bored by his mundane life at the Admiral Benbow Inn, and entranced by the mysterious Captain Billy Bones and his wild seafaring tales, young Jim Hawkins yearns for a life of adventure. His wish is soon granted as members of the infamous Captain Flint crew pursue Bones and his hidden treasure map.

When Bones dies in a struggle for the map, Jim narrowly escapes with his life and Bones’ prize possession. With a sturdy crew in place led by Long John Silver, and with Jim under the protection of a doctor, a nobleman and a stoic ship’s captain, they set sail in search of their fortunes. As greed escalates, mutiny threatens and loyalties are forever broken.

Armed and hungry for the treasure, the camps arrive where “X” marks the spot. Will they find the treasure? And if so, at what cost? Rep audiences will be the first to find out!

“This thrilling tale introduces us to a young boy caught up in a world not of his making, a world of greed and betrayal,” says Hupp. “With a fresh new take on the famous story that defined the idea of adventure, this production shines anew as we all embark on the journey.”

Never has the pursuit of the American dream been more relevant than it is today. Up next in the season is Death of a Salesman, directed by Robert Hupp, and running April 26 – May 12, 2013.

“Attention must be paid,” wrote the legendary Arthur Miller, the playwright who brought us The Crucible, All My Sons and A View from the Bridge, in this classic tragedy first published in 1949. Death of a Salesman went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play and the New York Critics’ Circle Best Play award.

Some critics claim Death of a Salesman is the greatest American play. Rep audiences have the opportunity to decide for themselves as Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning drama explodes on The Rep stage for the first time.

Traveling salesman Willy Loman is at the end of the road. Broke and desperate, with his world closing in around him, Willy escapes into a world where the past is more real, and more hopeful, than the present. His advice to his sons “Be well liked and you will never want,” falls flat in the face of their failure. His loving wife watches helplessly as he drifts further off the road.

Unable to gain traction in a world that has passed him by, Willy’s life spirals out of control on the downside of the dream. The haunting poetic realism of Miller’s milestone play captures the essence of an American tragedy that is as powerful and relevant today as it was when it was written over 50 years ago.

“Miller’s language transports us into a world where we are all reflected, and where we ignore his desperate warning at our own peril,” says Hupp. “Death of a Salesman gives Rep audiences the opportunity to witness American playwriting at its zenith.”

Closing out The Rep’s season is Avenue Q, one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history and Winner of the Tony “Triple Crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. On stage June 7 – June 30, 2013 and directed by Robbie Harper, Avenue Q is part flesh, part felt and packed with heart.

More South Park than Sesame Street and not appropriate for children, Avenue Q is a raunchy, laugh-out-loud puppet musical that tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q. There, he meets Kate (the girl next door), Rod (the Republican), Trekkie (the Internet sexpert), Lucy the Slut (need we say more?) and other colorful types who help Princeton finally discover his purpose in life.

Avenue Q was co-created by Robert Lopez, who also co-created the recent Broadway hit The Book of Mormon with Comedy Central’s “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and received Tony Awards for both works. Named “Best on Broadway” in 2003, critics universally called Avenue Q “the most fun onstage this year!”

“We’ve had so many requests for this musical and finally, after years of trying, we have the rights to produce Avenue Q on our stage,” says Hupp. “It’s truly one of the funniest musicals I’ve ever seen.”

SEASON SUBSCRIPTIONS

Season Subscriptions are on sale now and start at $180. Call The Rep’s Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or subscribe online here. Single ticket sales open to the public in August.