You really shouldn’t ask an actor about a playwright, because there is no way an actor knows the difference. A playwright’s job is the opposite of an actor’s job. A playwright has to take what is virtual and make it literal, an actor has to make what is literal into something physical, and the actor usually has no way of knowing what the playwright did or didn’t do.

An actor, even a bad one, takes the written word off the page and creates a living person. That’s why we call it acting, the actor is always in the action of the play, feeling the feelings and saying the words and moving through the imaginary space in real time. A playwright has this sense of what is happening in a twilit ether and, even the bad ones, write down what the make believe people in his or her mind are saying and doing. For the playwright, he or she cannot help but distill vast emotional landscapes into dialogue and stage direction, for the actor, these distillations have to be re-hydrated into full human beings.

So, I’m just going to say a few things about Arthur Miller, but keep in mind that I am first an actor and second an audience member of the theater. It’s a distant sixth or seventh to pretend I’m a writer.

Death of a Salesman was an extremely important play for me, and for a lot of us who grew up right after the sexual revolution, right after the deconstruction of the American family. I’m sure the vast majority of people believed that our home lives had changed, that the mythologies had been undone in the decade between Leave It To Beaver and Rhoda, but the fact is that most of our parents were still going through the same bullshit that their parents had.

No, there was no direct point for point parallel between Willie and Linda Lowman and my parents, but there are some startling similarities. A person who is embraced only as long as their use is obvious, and then cast off the second they become burdensome. A boy walking in on the obvious betrayal of the myths he has created for himself and his family. The rage, the boiling rage at the disrespect and the lies that bubbles right under the surface, surging up every now and then. But mostly, the love you feel for people you don’t like, simply because they are family, this sense of being POWs in the same war, the war your parents fought against each other and together against the world. These last two things, the anger and the adoration, went straight to my core more than the situations.

I understand that people believe there was a heavy handedness to his writing (the angelic wife of a struggling man named “Linda Lowman”, with a stupid dishonest kid named “Happy”), but I, and many people of my generation, was born after Brecht was sown into our subconscious, after irony and satire became so entrenched in our world view that we see heavy handedness as almost wry. I just wrote a play where a character is named “Seaman Swallows” not because I think it’s funny, but because I think it’s *not* funny and it is written anyway. The other character is “Seaman Ravioli”. Because that’s not funny either.

So, I experienced Death of a Salesman (first on stage at the community theater level, but many, many times since, including the Dustin Hoffman version on film) first as a story, then as a series of moments, but lastly, as an actor and lover of language. “Attention must be paid. Finally, finally, attention must be paid to such a man”. (I’m quoting from memory, so apologies, I have “Arcadia” and “Equus” on my bookshelf, but no Arthur Miller) “Mistakes have been made and I’ve been remiss”… “He had the wrong dreams. All of them, wrong” Fuck, I wish I had the actual play, because now I’m remembering a bunch… not just the “A man is not an orange” thing…

Willie talks about the death of a friend of his, with a thousand people at the funeral, and he says something like “What is better than to be able to walk into a town at 80 years old, pick up a phone and have the guy at the other end know who you are…” I’m mangling it, but the ideas are gorgeous, and as a kid I wanted to play every single role.

“The Crucible” was the first play I was involved with behind the scenes. My mom wrote the music for a production and they needed a boy choir to sing on the recordings, and it was my first time in a studio. I still remember the song, about Giles Corey being pressed to death under stones, and I still remember reading the script. That and “Caucasian Chalk Circle” were the first two plays I ever read, thanks to my mom.

The Crucible was the first play where I realized you could use the theater to make a statement about the larger world. I had always felt like actors created characters who had trouble finding love with one another, which is probably the full extent of what small children understand about plots, princesses and toads and whatnot. But the very thing that people criticize about The Crucible, the fact that it is politically heavy handed, is the thing that jarred me and woke me up.

Still, to this day, when people say things like “We live in dangerous times” or “there are evils in the world, greater than any evil we have known before”, it is exactly because of The Crucible that I say, “Um, read your history.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but after reading the Crucible, I went and read about the Salem witch trials, and then went and read about McCarthyism. I didn’t understand it, I am, after all, an actor and not a historian. But if Miller’s work did that for me, is it possible he did it for others as well?

I don’t know his full library of work, I am only distantly aware of him as a playwright and I know he was married to Monroe and blah blah blah. But when people tear down Arthur Miller, it’s a little like talking about how ugly the civic buildings in your town are, it’s finding aesthetic flaws where real *work* is being done. Arthur Miller’s two great plays are still changing minds and shaping our outlook, and that’s more than most critics have done.