Academic journal article The Arthur Miller Journal

A Note on the Limits of Interpretation: Thoughts on Recent Miller Productions

Academic journal article The Arthur Miller Journal

A Note on the Limits of Interpretation: Thoughts on Recent Miller Productions

Article excerpt

The centennial of Arthur Miller's birth in October 2015 inspired theater companies throughout the world to mount new productions of his plays. As a result, the last few years have given us excellent opportunities to consider differing interpretations of his works not just abstractly but fully embodied in performance. Since I was in college-which for me was quite a long time ago-I have appreciated the importance of seeing plays in production in addition to merely reading them. But it may be only recently that I have appreciated how different productions can be despite their use of the same text. The dramatist's words may be the same, but the ideas conveyed to the audience by the performance may focus on significantly different issues and themes, not just for individual scenes but for the overarching intent of the play as whole.

This gives rise to questions about the limits of interpretation: At what point has a company gone beyond interpreting a play and simply misunderstood it? If a company's production makes sense and provides the audience with insights, can the dramatist nonetheless complain that the text has been misunderstood and the production has "missed the point" of the play? I'm not concerned here with good versus bad productions, bad productions being ones where the company simply failed through technical or artistic ineptitude. Nor am I concerned with productions that merely are stylistically or culturally distinct: modern-dress versions of The Crucible, for example, or productions of Death of a Salesman where Black or Jewish actors use the Lomans to explore the distinctively African American and Jewish experiences of the American Dream. These productions merely show how the dramatist's work is sufficiently universal to be stretched in enriching ways to reveal insight into new contexts. Rather, I want to consider good productions that adhere to essentially the same stylistic and cultural context for which Miller originally wrote and yet nonetheless present significantly different visions of his ideas. How does this happen, and at what point can we say the interpretation simply is flawed? I do not have an answer here, but I think it is an interesting question.

To explore these ideas I'll consider two productions I saw of Miller's early play All My Sons (1947) and two of a later play, Broken Glass (1994), together with some thoughts on an interpretation of Rodolpho in A View from the Bridge (1956), raising the question of whether this goes beyond reasonable limits in interpreting the play.

All My Sons

I was at the University of Michigan in October 2015 for their Department of Theatre and Drama's celebration of the centennial of alumnus Arthur Miller's birth. One of the highlights was an excellent student production of All My Sons directed by Wendy C. Goldberg. In this production, the play revolved around Joe Keller as a powerful personality who dominates his family and his neighbors with smug self-confidence and slightly bemused condescension. Tall and gracefully rangy, Benjamin David Reitemeier portrayed Joe in much the way that Shakespeare's Julius Cesar was perceived by Cassius: "he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus" (act 1, scene 2). This Joe has little self-doubt or dependence on guidance from others. Far from confused or diffident, he believes he understands the challenges of the world, is prepared to take them on like a warrior, and expects to triumph.

This was most evident in the scene where George Deever (Jordan Rich) arrives at the Keller home having come from visiting his father in prison. George already has revealed to his sister, Ann (Madeline Rouverol), and to Chris Keller (Ryan Rosenheim) his story that Joe knew fully about shipping the defective airplane engine parts, for which George's father was convicted. George has felt the pangs of a lost past in a conversation with an old girlfriend, Lydia (Savannah Rounds), about her children, and Kate Keller (Regan Moro), Joe's wife, has attempted to bribe and placate George by telling him that Joe wants to help him move back home by getting him a job. …

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