Thursday, October 10, 2002

Arthur Miller’s “The Price” by LA Theater Works

I picked this out of my local library because I remembered Arthur Miller as one of the writers affected by the McCarthy era, blacklisted by the House of Unamerican Activities Committee. The recording was a radio drama, and I had been listening to KPCC’s “The Play’s The Thing” with delight since I moved to the area.

After I listened to “The Price” the first time, I immediately put in the first CD to listen to it again. Miller is an amazing writer. I am filled with admiration and envy-- I’ll admit it. Wow! He tosses off such amazing insights like candy to a throng. He’s astoundingly prolific too. Reading his chronology of works shows that he just doesn’t stop…Play after magnificent play just roll off his pen.

“The Price” first premiered in 1968. By that time, both his parents had died, he had been married three times, Marilyn Monroe was his second wife, and had been persecuted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. His life spanned 2 world wars, the great depression and the rise of communism. As an American Jew, he encountered the holocaust and met concentration camp victims.

“The Price” is addressing how we pay for the life we choose. With all the dramatic examples of tumult and war and deprivation, Miller chose something much simpler. He took simple familiar family relationships and used it for the backdrop of his ideas. Victor and Walter are not utterly indistinguishable from the crowd, their family had drama. But given the times everyone had lived through, their drama was not extraordinary. One was a doctor, one was a policeman, and they confront one another about the choices they made that have brought them to where they are. Men in middle age taking stock and facing life-long illusions, they speak intensely and finally, with honesty, about their motivations.

The character of Mr. Solomon, the appraiser, really is priceless. He has such marvelous lines:

“The mania today is SHOPPING. Years ago, a person was unhappy, didn't know what to do with himself, he go to church start a revolution, something...Today, you're unhappy, Can't figure it out, what is the salvation? Go shopping!”

And all in the most wonderful Jewish accent. He’s real glue, bringing out points that the others cannot.

Miller wrote so many plays, this one is great, and not even in his top ten. I’m glad that LA Theater Works has captured the drama and made it available to those of us who might not make it to a theater as often as we wish.

posted by Murphy 10/10/2002

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

I just finished listening to The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland. Yes, you read right. I said, “listened.” I have discovered the joy of books on tape. I love to read, and when I am doing almost anything else, I wish I could be reading.

With a recorded book, I get the joy of reading while still accomplishing the other things I need to do. While doing housework, even on the job, I can hear a marvelous story and be taken away from the mundane.

This book was read by Gigi Bermingham, who really did a marvelous job. She changed her voice for the different characters and used just the right amount of Italian accent to make it work.

Artemisia, of course, is the first female painter to be admitted to the academy of Florence. Vreeland emphasizes her womanhood with sympathy. She is not a strange martyr, like Joan of Arc. Artemisia is shown to have all the universally female issues to deal with: how to be a mother, daughter, lover and wife.

Her tutor even sexually abuses her, and her father is unsympathetic. This is, unfortunately, a familiar situation for many women even to the modern day.

Artemisia is an artist, above all. Vreeland shows how she struggles to be a great painter and to grapple with large ideas. Galileo shows up, apparently they were friends. His Earth-moving theory and her tradition-shattering career choice are well matched.

Artemisia, as Vreeland portrays her, is very human and very familiar. She triumphs and she fails. But she does not give up on her art; she does not give up her pursuit of truth and beauty.

Vreeland evokes a full range of emotion for her Artemisia. She is passionate, she is angry, she is enraptured, but she is also tired and frustrated. She is very real.

Bermingham speaks for her just perfectly, too. She enunciates carefully and in a feminine way for Artemisia. Her phrasing added to the pleasure of the book.

posted by Murphy 10/09/2002

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

This is cross-posted on Blogcritics

Yes, I recorded it. Of Course! I'll be watching it all week. The Forsytes are a complicated family, and stand up to repeat examination. Old Jolyon, Young Jolyon and Soames Forsyte are the men of note. Little June grows up before our eyes and Winifred scandalizes everyone, but harmlessly. Mostly. The Aunts tut tut over every little thing. There seems to be such importance placed on the smallest detail of propriety. And they all take such pride in the "Forsyte's good name."

The Victorian age was a tough time for people to figure out. With the Industrial era setting in, people who had no formal expectation of rising socially found themselves filthy rich and wanting to be upper class. England's class system of nobility couldn't hold all the worthy contenders.

Since nobility was not as easy to achieve as wealth, they had to settle on a different measure of what was upper class. Money, naturally, was easy to decide on. But there was that other part of nobility…nobility of character… that was implied (in complete disregard of evidence of such in their ranks) to the noble classes. Respectability was prized. If you were rich, but were vulgar or not respectable, all the other people, so desperately clawing for status, could look down upon you. You can see how the slightest impropriety would be pounced on as grounds for derision and exclusion.

Yes, the Victorians were prudish. And extremely money conscious. The Forsyte series makes that immediately evident.

But the Victorians were not without heart. Anyone who has read the Bronte Sisters knows the kind of high-flown passion the Victorians held dear. Jane Eyre and Heathcliff and all of them, falling so deeply in love, like falling off a cliff. They had nothing to orient them, and no handhold to grasp. Except respectability, which Jane had and Heathcliff did not.

So the Forsyte, and the rest of the Victorians, followed the rules to stay on track. There were so many rules, so so many, that it would keep them occupied past their moments of passion.

Young Jolyon, the artist, was able to recognize his passion. He knew enough to see the pearl of great price and give up what he had to in order to take it. He had the capacity for great love. It is easy for the viewer to recognize that—he is the artist after all.

But for poor Soames, to encounter the passion of his life and have nothing preparing him for it, the situation is agonizing. He was impeccable, always doing the right thing at the right time. Nothing but that, and always that, the right thing. He is the one who pushes the other Forsytes to harden their hearts against the members of their clan who trespass. Soames expresses the harsh opinion of "people" without a word, merely maintaining the hardness of his features.

It is chilling and wonderful.

But when he meets Irenie, he is lost. He is helpless in the face of his love, admiration and passion for her. There are so many men who are capable of falling so hard in love, but might be like Soames, having absolutely no idea what to do with their feeling.

Soames blunders it. He knows how to be respectable, but he doesn't know how to enjoy life. Irene does, but he will not learn from her. He expects her to meet him on his terms. It is not hard to see how this will turn out.

I am mesmerized by Soames, even more than Irene or Young Jolyon. He is so controlled, that when he finally says "You are charming beyond words," it is as if the words were formed in flame.

I can't wait to see the rest of the series.

Check your local listings. I think many places repeat the first episode, and the rest is still coming.

And if you don't "do" TV, then by all means read the books. They are as good, maybe better.

posted by Murphy 10/08/2002

Sunday, October 06, 2002

It has beautiful dresses and restrained passion. And ENGLISH ACCENTS!

It's a chick show. It's wonderful

The Forsyte sage began tonight on Masterpiece theater. I have been looking forward to it for weeks now. I had the chance to read the series years ago, before I really understood anything about anything. I've only seen the first part of the series, and I'm already finding it much richer than I remembered it.

It's worth watching. The series captures the late-Victorian middle class's obsession with money and propriety.

And then love. Where DOES love fit into a well-regulated household?

Soames is marvelous, he behaves like a stalker. It's great! He's so beside himself. And he's so bad!

All of the characters are fabulous. I will be watching.
posted by Murphy 10/06/2002

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Musings about art and the meaning of life