Quick Review: 'After the Fall'

When After the Fall was first produced in 1964, playwright Arthur Miller denied—or at least evaded the question—that it was based on his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Now, after 40 years of tabloids, TV biopics and Elton John songs, it's pretty obvious that this is a drama à clef. What is a big surprise in Roundabout Theatre Company's revival is the magnetic performance of Carla Gugino, an actress heretofore employed in pleasing but lightweight roles like the Spy Kids mom.

As Maggie, a guttersnipe-turned-superstar who commands a lot of attention (and sex) but little respect, Gugino veers from flighty to adoring to insecure to irrational with such force and veracity that she's never merely impersonating Marilyn, even with all of Maggie's booze, pills, suicide attempts and a production number staged just like "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."

Gugino's one scene in the first half of the play enlivens a talky act; in the second act, she helps Peter Krause—who as the main character, Quentin, is onstage for the entire play—to his most powerful moments, crumpling in rage and tears beside wife Maggie's volatility. In scenes without Gugino, especially his monologues, Krause comes off too boyish and bland.

Director Michael Mayer has set his trimmed version of the play (still two and a half hours long) in the airport where Quentin's awaiting the arrival of his new girlfriend: The sleek retro decor is attractive but unnecessary since most of the scenes are flashbacks; they are nonetheless staged, somewhat distractingly, within the airport lounge set.

Miller confronted other demons in After the Fall—McCarthyism, the Holocaust, the Depression—as Quentin, taking stock of his life, recalls incidents of betrayal, cruelty and inadequacy both personal and historic. It's diffuse, and begins to grate around the fifth time Quentin's first wife, Louise (Jessica Hecht), reappears to utter a comment that has haunted him; same with the oft-repeated memories of his mother.

By the end of the evening it becomes clear why this difficult play has been produced infrequently—and that there's a new golden girl on Broadway, albeit in a red wig.

GRADE: B

Through September 12 at the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street; 212-719-1300, www.roundabouttheatre.org for tickets & information.

Photo by Joan Marcus

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From This Author Adrienne Onofri

Adrienne Onofri has been writing for BroadwayWorld since it was launched in 2003. She is a member of the Drama Desk and has moderated panels (read more...)

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