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Martha's Vineyard Times is a weekly publication.
July 14 - July 20, 2005 Edition
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Anna Marie D'Addarie
eulogized as the greatest American playwright, was never shy when
it came to mixing politics and art on the stage. The Archbishops
Ceiling, the current offering at the Vineyard Playhouse is Millers
play about writers in Eastern Europe before the fall of Communism.
The mix of characters is as rich as a bottle of red wine, leaving
a complex taste on the palate long after its gone.
(Joel Rooks) enjoys the comforts of his home and the privileges
he is afforded by the state. Photo
by Ralph Stewart
Written in the early 1970s, the play examines freedom of speech
and the creative process. Miller began the play after an evening spent
with a group of writers in Prague as the secret police hovered nearby.
Recently, the play has enjoyed several reincarnations in regional
theaters and in New York City. Its theme of creating art in an oppressive
society makes a strong statement in the United States in 2005.
Miller asks the question, Is true art possible without struggle?
What happens to an artist who sells out to the power brokers is shown
through the character Marcus. A one-time dissident writer and leader
of the literary underground, he now enjoys certain freedoms in exchange
for his true voice, now silenced. Marcuss home, a former archbishops
residence, is the setting for the play. It was once a place of great
opulence. The home is probably bugged with listening devices, most
likely hidden in the ceiling. No such device has ever been found,
but each character believes it is possible and acts accordingly. Under
such circumstances, creation is not possible; ironically, great works
of art loom overhead.
The next generation of artist is represented by Sigmund, a new voice
in his country who refuses to be silenced. When his latest manuscript
is confiscated, he is given the opportunity to leave the country.
He refuses, saying it is the struggle that helps him create. He describes
what his life would be like in the United States; just another immigrant
ordering fast food with an accent. The banality of an exiled existence
and his need to have his voice heard in its own language are some
of his reasons to stay. Instead of receiving encouragement from Marcus
to continue the fight, Sigmund is being pushed to leave the country
by Marcus who is probably acting as an agent for the government.
The United States is represented by a novelist named Adrian who seems
to say all the wrong things for the right reasons. He shows up to
visit Marcus but is really interested in renewing his affair with
Maya, a woman who has been the lover of all three of the central characters.
Adrian symbolizes all the freedoms we enjoy, but he needs to visit
this repressed society to find inspiration. Maya asks him many times,
Why are you here? Each time he answers her differently,
but none of the answers ring true. Maya knows why he has come and
is trying to get him to realize it too. Adrian is a writer in a free
society, yet he doesnt write anything of significance.
The most enigmatic character is Irina, a young Danish woman Marcus
brings back from his recent trip to London. She does not speak any
language the others understand, and understands very little of what
is being said. Irina is always present and involved in every scene,
but cant communicate. Miller uses this character to represent
a silent Europe; close by, but true communication isnt possible.
Director Joann Green Breuer has done a good job with Millers
play. The pace seems right and her attention to detail is wonderful.
Ms. Breuer moves her actors adeptly around the set. When confrontation
is called for, the actors block each others way. Full-back to
the audience is a very powerful position and Ms. Breuers cast
uses it well. In moments of accord, the cast relaxes in chairs. In
a play with weighty philosophical themes, sensitive direction is more
important than in a murder mystery. In the mystery the clues are important
and both actor and director know it. In a play such as The Archbishops
Ceiling, the director must decide what is important, guide the
cast, and thus get the message to the audience. Ms. Breuer does that
The American writer played by Lawrence E. Bull, makes himself at home
on the set. He lounges, legs akimbo, on delicate chairs, takes off
his purposely noisy shoes to lie down, holds the saucer of his tea
cup like a Frisbee, and generally takes up too much space. By contrast,
Maya and Marcus moves silently around the stage even before they both
change into their even more silent, beautiful slippers. Carol Londons
Maya is ocean-deep. She knows everything and out of necessity says
very little. Ms. London portrays Maya as a survivor, and yet we pity
her for what she has become.
Joel Rooks plays Marcus as a man thrust into an oppressed society,
not by his choosing. He fought against it in his younger days, but
now likes his comfort. Mr. Rooks gives a strong performance. Marcus
may want Sigmund to leave the country so Sigmund wont have to
look back on his life with the same regrets that Marcus lives with.
Craig Alan Edwards plays Sigmund with passion. He tries to get his
fellow writers to understand why he cant leave; that seeking
asylum would be suicide. The American doesnt have the capacity
to understand, and Marcus understands too well. Mr. Edwards performance
is very strong. The audience may not immediately understand why he
wants to stay, indeed has to stay, in his country. Mr. Edwards has
a true bead on his character, and he is a pleasure to watch.
The set by Stephen M. Zablotny is a good space with once-beautiful
furniture and draperies, now old and in disrepair. Renaissance paintings
by Caravaggio press down from the ceiling onto the actors below as
if an angry God was looking down from heaven.
The cast and crew are up to the challenge of Millers play. The
full opening night audience appreciated all the hard work and many
rose quickly to their feet to reward them with a standing ovation.
The beauty of this play is how it makes you examine your own politics
and comfort level. How is art created? What does it reflect? How am
I responsible for my society? To begin asking yourself these questions,
and perhaps to find some answers, see the Vineyard Playhouse production
of The Archbishops Ceiling.
The Archbishops Ceiling runs Tuesday through Saturday,
through July 23. For performance times and prices, call 508-696-6300
or visit www.vineyardplayhouse.org.
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