Aux Dog brilliantly takes on Miller’s ‘After the Fall’
Aux Dog Theatre of Nob Hill — one of Albuquerque’s boldest theaters — opens its 10th anniversary season with Arthur Miller’s challenging expressionist drama “After the Fall.”
James Cady, who specializes in 20th century American drama, directs with the assurance of a master of the craft, which we have come to expect from him, especially after his recent production of “The Iceman Cometh,” one of Eugene O’Neil’s most personal plays.
Like O’Neil, Arthur Miller is one of the giants of the American stage, and like “Iceman,” “After the Fall” is a deeply personal dramatic creation. The play is autobiographical, written just after the death of Miller’s second wife, Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962, the same year he married his third wife, Inge Morath.
Those three marriages are the subject of the play. Or rather, they are the rugged terrain the central character traverses as he seeks to justify himself in the face of his failures and decide whether he is worthy to enter a third marriage after the failure of the previous two.
“After the Fall” takes place within the mind of protagonist Quentin, who is so clearly modeled on Miller that it is a little disconcerting to find he is a lawyer and not a writer. Yet there are good dramatic reasons for choosing law as Quentin’s profession, as he must defend himself before judge and jury, whom we never see because the judge, jury and executioner are all within the small circumference of his tortured head.
The play mirrors the human mind and so is nonlinear, jumping around the temporal landscape of Quentin’s psyche. Characters appear and disappear as they enter his consciousness. Besides the three women he marries, we see his parents, his brother and two friends caught up in the investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee, as well as two other women who play cameo roles in the turbulent psychological drama that is playing out in his mind.
The cast is uniformly excellent, but in many ways the play belongs to its two central characters: Quentin and Maggie. Sheridan K. Johnson is tasked with the daunting challenge of animating the iconic Marilyn Monroe, and she succeeds brilliantly. Her transformation from a young beauty spontaneous and full of life and love to one plagued by demons of self-destruction is a marvel to behold. The play comes to vivid life when Maggie takes center stage almost halfway through the play. Johnson is astonishing in her ability to transition instantly from one emotion to another, and seeing her supine on the floor struggling to breathe after an overdose of barbiturates is devastating. Marilyn Monroe could light up a room, and Johnson is electrifying in her personification of the fascinating star.
Peter Shea Kierst endows Quentin with the soul of a tortured liberal navigating the tumultuous decade and a half after the war. He survives one disaster after another and then is shocked when an intelligent and beautiful German archaeologist — nicely played by Ronda Lewis — offers him her love.
“After the Fall” is gorgeously designed by Petifoger, whose set simultaneously evokes the Holocaust and the deep recesses of Quentin’s cavernous mind. The costumes by Sharon Welz are exquisite.
“After the Fall” is playing through Oct. 1 at Aux Dog Theatre, 3011 Monte Vista NE, Albuquerque. Go to auxdog.com or call 254-7716 to make reservations.