Quentin (Kirk Gostkowski) lights a cigarette, ignoring the swarm of people reaching out to him: friends, colleagues, former wives. He looks a bit like Marcello Mastroianni in 8 ½ (Nina Simone’s craggy rendition of “I Put a Spell on You” sets the tone), except this man is not escaping into fantasy but tormented by memory. After the Fall, Arthur Miller’s notoriously autobiographical play, follows a successful lawyer as he sorts through his personal history—two marriages, the Red Scare and HUAC, his response to the Holocaust—and decides whether he should marry his newest love, a woman named Holga (Liz Tancredi). Replaying events in his mind and onstage, a guard tower from Auschwitz always hovering above the action, he accounts the thoughts and feelings that have led him to the present, offering little comfort to himself or to humanity as a whole. Visiting the concentration camp, he says, “There is something in there that is terribly acceptable,” later adding, “My brothers died here, but my brothers built this place.” It is a difficult, fascinating play, a messy masterpiece, and one that requires a sharp and audacious cast and crew.
What a terrific, unexpected surprise, then, to discover Rich Ferraioli’s current production, running at a near-unlocatable black box in Long Island City. The lobby reeks of a show you see only out of obligation (the audience seems to be made up entirely of family and friends) but any sense of unprofessionalism vanishes by the end of the opening scene. Mr. Gostkowski, his eyes flat and his voice urgent, carries this show with ease—no small feat, considering its three and a half hours are largely comprised of his monologues. Thea Brooks, who plays Quentin’s second wife, musical superstar Maggie—unmistakably based on Marilyn Monroe—nicely gives us the icon without sacrificing depth to caricature. She has the breathy, childish voice and manic behavior of a woman who either does or does not know precisely what effect she has on men.
Admittedly, After the Fall can at times become tedious, but that is Miller’s prerogative. This is not an economical play, but an exhaustive one, and the production is a triumph—a handful of unknowns who have proved that they have the intellectual strength and honestly to duke it out with one of America’s greatest playwrights.