Signature Stories: Volume 14 - Page 18

A C e n t u ry o f L e g acy Rebecca Miller is a writer and director whose work includes such films as the critically-acclaimed The Ballad of Jack and Rose and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee – the latter of which she adapted from her novel of the same name – and the recent Maggie’s Plan that, as of press time, was about to be screened at the New York Film Festival. In addition to her work as a filmmaker, Miller is also the guardian of her father Arthur Miller’s extensive body of work, overseeing new productions both in the U.S. and abroad. As rehearsals began for Incident at Vichy, Miller spoke with Signature Associate Artistic Director Beth Whitaker about the play and her father’s continued relevance as a writer. Signature: What do you look for in a new production of Miller’s work? Rebecca Miller: I say “no” unless I have a compelling reason to say “yes.” In the case of Incident at Vichy, it was a play that I really wanted to have done – it hadn’t been done in a long time and I was looking to have it done. Also, Jim Houghton is a longtime ally of my father’s and I admire his work at Signature and so I trusted his choice of a director. Once I okay a situation and a director, it’s very unusual for me to say “no” to something about casting unless there is something really wrong that is being brought up, and usually that’s for pragmatic reasons – somebody’s being chosen more for their potential value rather than that they are really right for a part. But, generally I really trust the director that’s been chosen to cast the play. Like when Mike Nichols wanted to do Salesman with Philip Seymour Hoffman, that was obviously really an event – something that would frame a play in a positive way. I don’t want to cheapen the plays by having them go on too often. No one can second guess how a play is going to do and how many people are going to see it, or if it’s even going to be successful in its own right. But what you can do is say that there isn’t a compelling reason for this play to be going on unless it’s a compelling combination of director and actors. Or that the play really hasn’t been seen for a long time and that you’d like to refresh the audience’s experience or knowledge of the play. S: What inspired Miller to write Incident at Vichy? RM: He was grappling with what had happened with the second World War, these questions about genocide and about getting into the humanity of individuals and ethical dilemmas. [Miller was] taking it away from a kind of broad, faceless phenomenon and getting down to a really ground level of people’s ethical dilemmas. One moment – a microscope on something that was overwhelming. S: What does it mean to be doing Incident at Vichy in the current state of the world? RM: I think that this is a moment where we have to say, “How do we hold on to our humanity? When are we devolving into chaos? What are the earmarks of civilization? How do we cling to it, remain civilized? What do we decide to stand up to, and stand up for?” It’s a confusing moment, and I think that the play has a lot of relevance because it’s both ethically motivated but also because it’s so personally interesting. It’s a fascinating play about human dynamics, about moment-tomoment, how human beings are behaving toward each other. How do people b etray each other, how do people stand strong? How is character destiny? Is character destiny? What part does character have to play in destiny? Those are all questions that the play brings up, but what’s interesting about it isn’t so much that it’s a big idea-play, but I think it puts a magnifying glass on one room in a very, very big situation. And that’s what makes the play great. S: What sticks with you about the 1997-98 Arthur Miller season at Signature? RM: I remember going to The American Clock with him at Signature and being so blown away by it and how surprising and fresh that play was. I know that he loved working with Jim and he really liked him as a person a great deal. It meant a lot to him at that moment to have these plays put on. S: As the Centennial of Miller’s birth approaches, what are you looking forward to as several new productions of his work open in New York? RM: I’m always interested in framing his work in new ways which make people see plays again in perhaps a fresh way. A View from the Bridge, that Ivo von Hove has put together, is very fresh and exciting and, I think, a visceral production. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what The Crucible is – it’s got wonderfully open casting and we’re kind of breaking the mold there. Incident at Vichy will be very exciting because I think that that’s a play that a lot of people don’t know, and I think it’ll be exciting to peer into some of the lesserknown plays – the challenge is to give them what they deserve, too, and make sure that they are well-represented. I’m hoping that it’s a moment where his eternal relevance is appreciated – I think that’s what the challenge is, always, to keep reminding the audience of how relevant he remains. S: Amongst Miller’s plays that are lesser-known, do you have favorites that you would advocate for? RM: The American Clock. I could definitely see that coming down the pike, I would love to see that done again. Maybe, eventually, Resurrection Blues. Some of his later plays are tricky because they need a kind of direction that is very imaginative – they’re not realistic plays as much as his other plays. I sort of think that what’s so remarkable about him. As Edward Albee said at his funeral, he became younger and younger as a playwright. He never let go of the idea of experimentation. Salesman was an experiment; all of his plays are experiments. Some of them worked better than others in the marketplace, but they all are really searching and trying to push the form. And this play that you’re doing is no exception. n I remember going to The American Clock with him at Signature and being so blown away by it and how surprising and fresh that play was. (left to right) Kate Myre and Kevin Conroy in The Last Yankee at Signature Theatre, 1998; Rebecca Schull and Joseph Wiseman in I Can’t Remember Anything at Signature Theatre, 1998; Chris Messina, Mary Catherine Wright, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. in The American Clock at Signature Theatre, 1998. 17 18