Two emotionally wrenching plays by one of America's great playwrights are being presented in a rotating repertory by Washington's Arena Stage in its temporary space in Crystal City. Each offers an absorbing and troubling look at "The American Dream" and each features a fine performance by the leading actor, as well as some nice supporting work by the entire cast.
Both plays are by Arthur Miller. One is his frequently performed Pulitzer Prize winning "Death of a Salesman" which is one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the American theater of the mid-20th Century. The other is his lesser-known and less frequently produced look at life on the docks of Brooklyn after World War II, "A View from the Bridge."
Both center around a man whose weaknesses have tragic consequences, men who can't see their own faults with any clarity at all. Both involve the tie of family and both end with disasters that could have been avoided had the central character been able to see what everyone else could see was coming.
For the salesman who comes to believe his insurance policy can pay off as his career never has, Arena has one of the local theater community's strongest actors, Rick Foucheux. He turns in a powerful performance in one of the great roles for an American actor. His rush to tragedy is both completely understandable and fascinating.
DELANEY WILLIAMS, a Washington native has worked in many of our best local theaters, but who is also a frequent face on television ("The Wire," "Law and Order," "Cold Case," "The West Wing") is the tragic figure at the heart of "A View from the Bridge." He breathes life into a character who could seem all together too one sided and despicable. Instead, in his hands, the Italian-American dock worker who supports his wife and his young niece in an apartment in a blue collar neighborhood, is a more complex, interesting character and his tragedy is, therefore, more involving and painful.
When two of his wife's cousins from "the old country" enter the U.S. illegally, the dock worker puts them up in his home and gets them into the union so they can work on the docks. He can share the economic opportunities of his world without a moment's hesitation. That is, after all, what family does; sharing the affections of his niece — now that's a different matter.
He maintains that his opposition to a budding romance is based on a conviction that the boy is more interested in a marriage that would let him remain in the country legally than any true devotion. But it is soon clear that there are deeper fears and passions at work.
AS A PAIR of plays performed in repertory, most of the roles in both plays are handled by the same cast. For "Salesman," Nancy Robinette has the plum role of the salesman's wife and then a small part in "A View." Her part in "Salesman" has some powerful moments which she delivers with a fine sense of style, but she doesn't quite pull them all together at the end with the famous graveside speech.
Jeremy S. Holm and Tim Getman team up as their two sons with good results.
Getman is particularly impressive if only for the fact that his role, that of the insensitive and ignored younger son, is the more difficult to make believable. It is the least well-written role in the play and he makes it work.
Naomi Jacobson is most impressive as the wife of the dock worker in "A View." Fine work in smaller roles come from J. Fred Shiffman, who provides a notable presence as the Salesman's uncle who appears in hallucinations, and Noble Shropshire who is fine as the next door neighbor in "Salesman" and then is so much more than just fine as the narrating lawyer in "View."
The rotating schedule for the two plays includes a number of days when both plays are performed, one at a matinee and the other in the evening. There are such two-show days every Saturday during the run which ends in mid-May and on Sundays April 13 and May 11 as well as Tuesday April 15 and Wednesday May 7. It might be tempting to try to catch both on one day, but it would be an emotionally exhausting day with some five-and-a-half-hours of powerful drama.