In ‘Fall,’ Miller’s birds do come home to roost
BOSTON – He was never listed in his father’s obituary in the New York Times or mentioned in his father’s memoir.. He was never publicly acknowledged by his father.
He was warehoused for many years before finding the light of day and a loving family in Bristol, Conn..
His name is Daniel Miller and he was born in 1966, the son of the late iconic playwright Arthur Miller and Austrian-born photojournalist Inge Morath. His story and the story of his relationship – or non-relationship — with his parents is at the crux of the Huntington Theatre Company’s world premiere production of Bernard Weinraub’s “Fall,” at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts.
It is the ultimate irony that Miller, who died in 2005, explored relationships between fathers and their sons in many of his most well-known works, including the masterpiece “Death of a Salesman,” while essentially deleting his son from his life when he learned Daniel had been born with Down syndrome.
“Fall” eventually is taken over by Joanne Kelly as Morath, Miller’s third wife who died in 2002, in a theatrical tour de force in her portrayal of a wife agonized over the decision to institutionalize her son.
In Weinraub’s telling, she later deeply regretted the agreement she and Miller made to banish Daniel from their lives, a decision made after consultation with a sympathetic Dr, Wise (Joanna Glushak), who has the sad duty of informing the Millers of “tests” being performed on Daniel and the result of the tests.
It turns Morath’s ecstasy of childbirth into screaming hysteria at what the tests reveal. Then comes the agonizing decision to put Daniel in a facility
The play is based on fact, but Weinraub told The Boston Globe in an interview he used “dramatic license” in crafting his piece, and the result is a story that grips you, at times shocks you, and grabs you by the throat and makes it hard to look away.
Josh Stamberg as Miller is given the toughest road to hoe partly because Miller, never a shrinking violet ,was almost never out of the public eye during his life, especially during the drama of his years with Marilyn Monroe. He also enjoyed his celebrity and using it to further his political causes.
Daughter Rebecca, meanwhile, is the apple of Arthur’s eye, and Miller enjoys a longtime friendship and smooth business dealings with producer Robert Whitehead (John Hickok), who has taken the good with the bad during Miller’s career, with loyalty on both sides .
Weinraub isn’t unfair to Miller; he said in an interview his intention wasn’t to demonize him, but tell a sad story. The Millers’ decision was the same one made by many couples in 1966, but Miller couldn’t being himself to change his mind when attitudes changed in time, with the closing of the large human warehouses where the disabled lived , and the advent of group homes, workshops and the disabled’s eventual integration into schools and workplaces.
Miller’s favorite expression, according to the Globe interview with Weinraub, was “My plays are about the birds coming home to roost.”
Roost they did, foretold by Inge many years before when the decision was made. “We will pay a price for this, Arthur.”
Then comes her soul-baring scene later when Inge finally admits to her part in the decision.
“I didn’t want him either.”
It has becomes somewhat of a cliché, I suppose, to praise the Huntington’s consistently superb production values, which seemingly do not vary from production to production. But you can’t ignore the superb set by Brandon McNeel with its New York apartment or magnificently appointed Connecticut country home (is it available to rent?).
Then there’s the original music and sound design by John Gromada, costumes by Ilona Smogyi, lighting by Philip Rosenberg, and Zachary Bovoray’s projections.
Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois took the director’s reins himself for this production, and what he, Weinraub, the design team and cast have wrought is a quite fine piece of theater, especially for a new work.
DuBois’ mood and pacing are impeccable and if there is one small complaint, it is the almost continuous state of agony and anguish Inge is in, which becomes almost unbearable to watch and has us begging for any hint of comic relief.
Weinraub notes that at the end of his life, Miller did make the decision to include Daniel in his will.
As for Daniel Miller? He’s a survivor, a survivor who ultimately found the love he spent his life seeking.
The last words do and should belong to actor Nolan James Tierce, the 27-year-old actor with Down syndrome playing Daniel, who speaks them at the conclusion of “Fall.”
“Are any of us perfect? None of us are. I like my life. I work. I have friends. I live with a wonderful Mom and Dad. They loved me so much. I have a sister. I love her too.
“Am I angry about Arthur and Inge? I’m not an angry person. I didn’t really know them. I was not invited to the funerals or the memorial services for either of them. My name was never mentioned. “Some people look at me and see Down syndrome. Not Daniel. But this is who I am. My name is Daniel Miller. “
The Huntington Theatre Company world premiere production of “Fall.” Written by Bernard Weinraub. Directed by Peter DuBois, At the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through June 16. huntingtontheatre.org.