Late Arthur Miller is not everyone’s mug of latte. Many people still long for his big muscular post war dramas in which he took the temperature of the American soul – plays like ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘All My Sons’.
His later, shorter works need something special if they’re to be made to sing. But Cathal Cleary’s revival offers just that, with a striking design by Jamie Vartan that pitches us into the middle of a state mental hospital – first in a waiting room with two husbands and then on the wards with their two wives.
The upshot is an absorbing vignette in which the husbands – one middle aged one retired – size each other up before we meet the wives who are being treated for depression.
Miller suggests that mental illness is the price of the protestant Yankee utopia of self-reliance: the American dream is shadowed by overwhelming disappointment. In the marital bickering over fidelity and depression that follows, the play has shades of Miller’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe. And yet this melancholy thread expresses solidarity not jaundice: ‘nothing’s perfect except a hot bath,’ says one character.
Vartan’s stark design pitches the encounter in a prison of frosted glass furnished with stacking chairs, steel frame windows and a long beige privacy curtain. This allows the play to sing a subtle song reminiscent of Tennessee Williams and we are even offered (fake) medication on the way out.
But the play’s other great feature is a fine cast. Andy de la Tour is a proud but desperate old businessman and Kika Markham is no less desperate as his gaga wife, consoling herself with fantasies of tap dancing. Matilda Ziegler, meanwhile, is a frail Blanche Dubois type desperate for approval from Paul Hickey as the decent carpenter husband who she struggles to respect.
By Patrick Marmion