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Commentary: Remembering Arthur Miller

By Chris Mackowski

St. Bonaventure, NY – I recently had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with the playwright, Arthur Miller not personally, but through one of his most famous plays, "The Crucible."

The theatre company I work with, a small community theatre in Bradford, Pa., recently mounted a production of "The Crucible." It's a fictionalized story of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Our production closed on Sunday, January 30th, making us some of the last people to perform Miller's work during his lifetime.

I've thought about that a lot today.

As director of the production, I've spent the better part of six months analyzing the script, doing research, and reading essays by and about the playwright.

Most of us who practice theatre out beyond the reach of the big city tend to think of playwrights as being so far removed from us that they might as well be dead anyway. We have as much personal interaction with Shakespeare as we do with any big-name contemporary playwright from New York. The best we can try to do is "commune" with him and capture his spirit and stay faithful to the ideas he's trying to illustrate.

And that's what nearly forty of us tried to do as we produced "The Crucible." We tried to be as historically accurate as possible while also conveying the timlessness of Miller's messages.

Miller didn't know our production existed. But, I am sure, if he had known, he would've cared. That's because the messages of his play that personal responsibility isn't always easy, that the search for truth should never become an out-of-control witchhunt are messages Miller felt were worth repeating. After all, he'd been a victim of that very type of hysteria in the age of McCarthyism.

My own relationship with Miller doesn't date back that far. I first met him in high school in the late 80s. Nearly every eleventh grader has to read "The Crucible" as part of an American Literature class.

In college, I read "Death of Salesman," Miller's play about the American dream gone awry and it helped open my eyes to the kind of world I wanted to create - and the kind of world I wanted to avoid.

In the mid 90s, the first community theatre production I ever performed in was Olean Community Theatre's production of Miller's play "All My Sons." Again, I was reminded that the American Dream can have its dark side, and that doing the right thing isn't easy. And even that some of the worst things are sometimes done with the best intentions.

As an adjudicator for the Theatre Association of New York State, the first plays I ever had to respond to were productions of "The Crucible" and "All My Sons," both in the same weekend in different parts of the state.

One of my most prized volumes in my book collection is an autographed copy of Miller's "After the Fall," a play in which he reflects about his doomed marriage to Marilyn Monroe.

And, of course, most recently, I had a conversation with Miller through our production of "The Crucible," which is his most performed play.

So, although I never met Miller in person I did meet him through his ideas. They are powerful ideas, worth getting to know, and worth keeping alive.

Listener Commentator Chris Mackowski is an assistant professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University.