Robert Brustein

Arthur Miller Outlived His Critics

October 14, 2002

With Arthur Miller reaching the age of eighty-seven this month, it is time for those of us who have not always been in his corner to salute one of our theater's most distinguished elder statesmen. Aging surely has its inconsolable side, the worst being the waning of your faculties and the loss of those you love (Miller this year suffered the death of his wife, the gifted photographer Inge Morath.) But one of the advantages of growing old is that you finally begin to outlive your critics—or at least their sour opinions of you.

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In honor of Banned Books Week, we'll be publishing our original reviews of frequently banned books. First up is Robert Brustein on Joseph Heller's Catch 22, "a bitter, brilliant, subversive book."

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DOUBT (Walter Kerr Theatre) ROMANCE (Atlantic Theater Company) THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT (LAByrinth Theater) THE PILLOWMAN (Booth Theater) THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING) (DR2 Theatre) THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (Vivian Beaumont Theater) Contrary to received opinion, the American theater is currently hosting as many good playwrights, and as many strong plays, as ever before. Although virtually none of these dramas originates on Broadway, a handful eventually enter the mainstream through the channels of resident, Off-Broadway, and London theaters. What follows is a brief roundup of six new work

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that as a nation's politics grow more regressive, its arts tend to become more rambunctious. This is especially true in the theater. At the same time that the newly re-elected Bush administration is eliminating all traces of opposition from its Cabinet and its agencies, the volume of dissent is being turned up again on the American stage. Let us savor this precious privilege. An administration so eager for conformity in its inner circles will eventually try to impose it on the culture and the citizenry at large.

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SINCE THE 1960S, WHEN Michael McClure imagined Billy the Kid humping Jean Harlow in The Beard and Barbara Garson had Lyndon Johnson whacking Jack Kennedy in MacBird, it has grown obvious that actual people, often still among us, have become the grist of American playwriting. In one recent week alone, a musical opened by Michael John LaChiusa called First Lady Suite, featuring Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, and Mamie Eisenhower, along with a semi-fictional comedy by A.R. Gurney called Mrs. Farnsworth, about a Vassar woman who may or may not have been impregnated by George W.

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Angels and Beards

Tony Kushner's new play, Caroline, or Change is a formal anomaly. It has been hailed as a breakthrough musical created by a confident professional collaborative—vigorous score by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie), lively choreography by Hope Clarke (Spunk), and dynamic staging by George C. Wolfe (Jelly's Last Jam).

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Maria Stuart may not seem like the perfect project for Ingmar Bergman's biannual exploration of classical texts. Written in 1800, some years after Schiller had completed The Robbers and Don Carlos, it is a typical product of Sturm und Drang--more workable perhaps as an opera libretto than as a dramatic text. Maria Stuart has a lot of strong scenes, particularly the confrontation between the two rival queens and the Machiavellian plotting of the treacherous courtiers.

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No Time for Comedy

I was hoping to do a review this week of the late-summer London theater season, but like everyone else in America I had to change my plans. Writing drama criticism seems very trivial labor after watching the herculean efforts of police officers, fire fighters, and city workers to retrieve the remains of victims buried under the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. How does one continue to evaluate plays in the face of all that grief and all that rubble? It is being said that among the many things destroyed forever by the terrorists was our innocence. They may also have killed--I hope temporari

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August Strindberg wrote A Dream Play in 1902 after experiencing a serious nervous breakdown in Paris that led him to the brink of madness. Called the "Inferno crisis" after the intensely subjective memoir he later wrote about the experience, this was a period in which Strindberg's incipient paranoia had blossomed into full-blown persecution mania. Among his many curious delusions was the conviction that he was being tortured by feminist witches.

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The Marriage of Bette and Booby Christopher Durang Miss Universal Happinessby Richard Foreman During his brief sojourn in the Sunday pages of The New York Times, the English drama critic Benedict Nightingale indicted a central strain of current American drama as "diaper plays," by which he meant works that ignored the urgencies of the political and social world, focusing instead on a surrogate hero's problems with his parents.

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