Theatre has been tremendously important in my life and so, choosing between such iconic players is no easy task. So, believe me when I say, the impact of Arthur Miller’s work as inspiration to my character and as a writer has been profound.
Arthur Miller was just 33 years old when Death of a Salesman won him a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1949. Since then his work has been performed worldwide and taught in countless schools providing not merely a time capsule of 1940s America but an evolving catalyst that lights a flame in many a young actor’s hearts. American history marked Miller’s life to the extent that such experiences formed the cynical playwright we know today. The Great Depression meant the financial ruin of his father and fuelled the playwright’s creative focus on the effect of the social upon the personal.
Miller crafted a figure in Willy Loman that is universally recognisable, people see in him their father, uncle, or brother – always someone sympathetic and familiar, making the inevitable tragedy all the more heart-rendering. In Death of a Salesman, America was given a stern lesson on the cost of a culture that celebrates the superficial. It rubs the veneer off the cultish pursuit of the American Dream.
The Crucible was the first play I read, front to back, in one sitting. The words effortlessly formed scenes so vividly in my head I felt they were my own creation. So forcefully did it take my young imagination that I felt myself in Salem, I felt the hypocrisy and injustice like knives to my heart and when I was done I wept. I was a child, and until then had been untouched by writing that burned with emotion. From that moment on I belonged to the theatre. Later, I began to appreciate the historical nuance of The Crucible. Despite the setting in Colonial Massachusetts, the play is ultimately a parable for the McCarthy era ‘witch-hunts’ of the late 40s early 50s.
The anti-communist investigations in which Miller himself was charged with contempt and blacklisted were a cultural phenomenon that cast a tremendous shadow over the culture of arts in America. This play was Miller’s response, a rebuttal of the whirlwind subpoenaing madness of the ‘Red Scare’. It was a creative revenge delivered with intelligent historical reference as he asked America to remember a tragedy of the past and apply the lessons learnt to the present. Revivals of The Crucible today are perhaps more relevant than ever. A play centred on a culture of religious fanaticism, racism and hypocrisy at the highest levels has little but costume in the way of being distinct from our own.
In my humble opinion, there has been no playwright, before or since, who captures a nation’s soul so succinctly, so powerfully. His work demands that audiences examine their lives and priorities with respect to the current cultural climate. Miller’s plays represent a black mirror social conscience, one that we are reminded of with each revival and performance.