Sunday, February 13, 2005

Mamet on Miller. How Far Wrong Can You Go with That?

David Mamet says some nice things about Arthur Miller in the Times today. He says the obvious, that when he told Miller that listening to Willy Loman and his son Biff was like listening to Mamet and his own dad the look on Miller's face made clear that Miller had "not only heard this comment thousands of times, he has probably heard it from every man who ever saw the play."

I find this a comforting thought, reaffirming as it does my notion that all men are brothers in the sense that we are all sons of the same difficult, determined, selfish, pitiful, daddy Big Daddy who naturally shrank with age and I don't mean because of the squashing of the spinal disks. Not having a son of my own, I have been deprived of the opportunity of knowing if seeing the play would have made me a better father. I rather think not. I rather think that if I had a son and all my friends had had sons, those sons would have been brothers, too, by the same uncomfortable logic.

But this is the part of Mamet's tribute that I really like, -- the healing part -- where Mamet sums up Death of a Salesman and The Crucible in the vocabulary of tragedy:

We are freed, at the end of these two dramas, not because the playwright has arrived at a solution, but because he has reconciled us to the notion that there is no solution - that it is the human lot to try and fail, and that no one is immune from self-deception. We have, through following the course of the drama, laid aside, for two hours, the delusion that we are powerful and wise, and we leave the theater better for the rest.

Bad drama reinforces our prejudices. It informs us of what we knew when we came into the theater - the infirm have rights, homosexuals are people, too, it's difficult to die. It appeals to our sense of self-worth, and, as such, is but old-fashioned melodrama come again in modern clothes (the villain here not black-mustachioed, but opposed to women, gays, racial harmony, etc.).

The good drama survives because it appeals not to the fashion of the moment, but to the problems both universal and eternal, as they are insoluble.

Hmmm. I seem to have quoted most of the tribute. But you might have missed it otherwise.

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