The death of Arthur Miller today forces us to ask whether he ever wrote anything worth seeing or reading after the play that kicked off his career in 1949, Death of a Salesman. That play seems to have had its inspiration in Eudora Welty’s 1937 story “Death of a Traveling Salesman,” whose protagonist R.J. Bowman was the forerunner of Willy Loman.
Miller’s other notable plays such as A View From the Bridge, All My Sons, The Crucible, Incident at Vichy and After the Fall seem to me mostly dramatized ideas, glorified morality plays, or otherwise inert. Is there a memorable character other than Willy Loman in any of Miller’s plays? Miller’s ventures in the short story and the novel are likewise devoid of life.
Miller publicly explored if not exploited his marriage to Marilyn Monroe in After the Fall. He returned to the subject of Monroe last year in Finishing the Picture. I’m sure I’ll never see it, but here’s what the trustworthy Terry Teachout had to say about it after its Chicago debut:
The cast included Stacy Keach, Linda Lavin and Matthew Modine, who together with their less well-known colleagues did what they could to enliven a show whose only distinction is that it isn’t quite as horrible as Mr. Miller’s last play about Marilyn Monroe, “After the Fall,” with which the Roundabout Theatre Company battered Broadway earlier this year. “Finishing the Picture” is, however, quite horrible enough, a bitter stew of score-settling and self-regard that left me wondering, not for the first time, how the author of “Death of a Salesman” could have stooped so low