Thursday, September 24, 2015

Notes From Annie's Garden: Working with Arthur Miller

Annie Keefe & Arthur Miller,
with a special note from the playwright.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
By Annie Keefe
Associate Artist

In the course of a long career, I’ve been fortunate enough to have at least 3 artistic homes.  My first was the McCarter Theater in Princeton, where I discovered my passion and got my Equity card.  Arthur Lithgow took a chance on a 23-year-old woman and made her a stage manager.  I got to work with a resident company in repertory and made some lifelong friends.  I worked on my first world premiere play there: CAESAR AT THE RUBICON by T. H White.  I barely remember the experience…except that it was more than 3 hours long, and featured some Latin that I’m sure most of the audience didn’t understand.

My second artistic home, and the one I spent the most time at was the Long Wharf Theatre down the road in New Haven. I started there in 1971 at the beginning of the regional theater movement and within a couple of years, I was working on both American and World Premiere productions as a matter of course.  Not to mention Broadway transfers. Very heady times.

In 1994 I had the honor to work on the World Premiere of BROKEN GLASS. It was directed by Playhouse favorite John Tillinger, and because it was a World Premiere, it would mean that the playwright, Arthur Miller, would be in the room for most of the rehearsal period.  At this point in my career, I didn’t even have the sense to be nervous!  We’d had a lot of playwrights in the room over the years – David Storey, Peter Nichols, Edna O’Brien, Athol Fugard, David Rabe, Lillian Hellman, Simon Gray – to name but a few.

The interesting thing about a rehearsal process is that each production is remarkably similar in terms of the day to day of it.  What changes, and what makes it unique is the personalities of the people involved.  At heart, all of the original actors in BROKEN GLASS were theatre actors.  Some had done some television and film besides (Amy Irving, Ron Silver and Ron Rifkin).  Frances Conroy would go on to have quite a film and television career, but at the time she was just a fine theater actress, as were Lauren Klein and George N. Martin.  The material was fascinating and dense and complex and we were the first people to explore it.  It was thrilling to watch the actors along with Arthur and John tease out the plot and build the characters.  It was a complicated and difficult birthing process.  John and Arthur were longtime friends, and there were post-rehearsal conversations I wish I had had the sense to focus on. But there were production notes to be sent and schedules to be made and things in the rehearsal hall to reset for the next day.

Of course with hindsight, I wish I had understood the privilege it was just to be in the room with one of America’s most enduring playwrights.  But then again, it is much harder to focus on the work when one is star struck!

I’m at my third artistic home now.  It is by far my favorite artistic home because it has a lot of my heart in it.  I look forward to seeing our production of BROKEN GLASS, and to see what Mark Lamos will bring to the material (rehearsal reports are very exciting!), and to see if it stirs up old memories of my brief time with Arthur Miller.

Letter from Arthur Miller to Annie Keefe.
Transcript:

5/9/94

Dear Anne;
Thanks for your lovely note.
I wish you'd been able to stay with us. Anyway,
it begins to look like success! The ship is docked
with only minor damage.. mainly to the officers.
You were great. I hope we can work again... if
I should ever get stupid enough to write another show.

Inge sends her greetings -
All best,
Arthur

1 comment:

doug stender said...

I remember seeing Broken Glass at the Long Wharf near the end of its run. As luck would have it (all mine) Ron Silver had left the cast very suddenly, and that wonderful actor, Doug Stender, whom I had seen for years in everything he did, took over for Mr. Silver at the shortest of notice, and completed the remainder of the run playing his part with the script in his hand. Well, the performances (I attended all of them, three, I recall) were magical, entrancing, magnetic. He was the talk of the theater. It was a thrilling display of the most masterful acting, and what a great, and rare privilege to bear witness to such accomplished artfulness. You know (just a brief discursion before I end), I don't think John Tillinger really appreciated Doug as much as he should have. He never lit him very well often seeming to 'block' Doug walking into a shadow, or from shadow, into light, and quickly into shadow again. In fact, because of this, Doug had a difficult time seeing the Broken Glass script in his hand. But he overcame the adversity, and triumphed. Ah, heady days. Seymour Maslow-Freen