Playwright: Arthur Miller
Venue: Arvada Center for the Arts & Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada CO.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance: Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Regional Premiere.
There is no question that Arthur Miller is one of the best American playwrights of the 20th century. His résumé includes classics like Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, and The Crucible. His writing career spanned more than 60 years, and for those who weren’t avid theater goers, he was also known to some because of his famous wife: Marilyn Monroe.
The Archbishop’s Ceiling is not one of his more famous works. In fact, this Arvada Center production of the 1977 script is a regional premiere. Unlike Death of A Salesman or All My Sons, The Archbishop’s Ceiling is not focused on strong American characters faced with life’s challenges. In fact, there is only one American character in the cast of 5 and the setting is not in America, but “a capital in Europe” (presumably Prague, Czechoslovakia).
The Archbishop’s Ceiling is best considered a political drama, with themes of power, privacy, and intrusive spying. It was written, in part, in response to Miller’s 1956 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He refused to provide HUAC with names of Communist sympathizers. He was convicted of contempt of Congress and blacklisted.
All of this background information is helpful in understanding The Archbishop’s Ceiling, where the assumption is that the setting, the former residence of the Archbishop, is bugged with microphones. Although the microphones are unseen, it is safe to assume that they exist, and that every word spoken in that room is recorded and reviewed by the government.
|Marcus (William Hahn), Adrian (RodneyLizcano), and Sigmund (Michael Morgan).|
The American character, Adrian (Rodney Lizcano) is a writer who has stopped by to see friends, including two other writers (Marcus, played by William Hahn, and Sigmund, played by Michael Morgan). He is also hoping to, and does, see Maya (Heather Lacy), who has been a mistress to all three writers.
Miller’s script is like a parachute; densely packed with ideas that cover everything when the chute is opened. Those ideas are expressed through three writers. Marcus has a checkered past, but is now friendly to, if not employed by, the government that is seeking to control all information. Sigmund is critical of the government, and faced with prison or fleeing the country. Adrian, the only American in the script, is appalled at the persecution of anyone critical of the government.
The Arvada Center production is one that Miller himself would have been proud of; the set, the costumes, the lights, and the performances are all outstanding. Brian Mallgrave’s set is a masterpiece of detail; there are books, notebooks, and writer’s debris strewn everywhere. The chaos of writing sets the scene; Mallgrave gives the actors the tone and the tools for writing, even though no writing takes place during the play.
|Maya (Heather Lacy) and Marcus (William Hahn).|
Costume Designer Clare Henkel puts Maya in a stunning blue dress, giving her a femme fatale look that perfectly fits her character. Each of the writers has a different but fitting costume style; Adrian, the American, is in jeans and a sport coat. Sigmund, the critic, is in a dress suit. Marcus, the collaborator, is dressed as a late 1970s dandy.
It is the performances, though, that strike the tone and carry Miller’s message. Heather Lacy speaks in a heavy Eastern Europe accent, walks with the confidence of a diva, and juggles her affection for all three writers even when then four of them are together in the room. William Hahn’s Marcus brings his new girl (Irina, played by Adrian Egolf) into the mix with no apparent concern. Hahn is convincing as the duplicitous spy; we’re never sure if he’s telling the truth or spinning a tale. Rodney Lizcano is the American writer, and he hardly recognizes his own naïveté as he valiantly tries to intrude in a political environment he hardly understands.
|Adrian Egolf (Irina), William Hahn (Marcus), Michael Morgan (Sigmund).|
Adrian Egolf is a very talented actress with an outstanding résumé, and she could play Irina in her sleep. It’s not a very challenging role, and to that extent, Egolf’s talent is squandered here. One wonders why Miller even included Irina in the script. My theory is that Irina is a derogatory caricature of Miller’s ex-wife, tossed in for contrast to the intellectual and artistic nature of the other characters.
Miller’s script reminds us of how artists and writers are often considered subversives. They challenge the status quo. They represent the unfettered distribution of ideas in an environment where the powerful need to control information and ideas.
|Michael Morgan, as subversive writer Sigmund.|
The issues in The Archbishop’s Ceiling are certainly relevant today; surveillance of American’s phone calls and emails is part of the political landscape. Americans are generally opposed to that surveillance, but it’s not an issue that generates much passion. Privacy is not an issue that shows up in our priorities.
The context has changed significantly since Miller wrote The Archbishop’s Ceiling. While Americans have done away with HUAC, we now accept some loss of privacy in the name of national security. Whether that loss of privacy is a good thing is debatable.
The Archbishop’s Ceiling reminds us of the dangers of lost privacy and government power. It’s a world most of us do not want to live in, and hopefully, we won't. For that reason alone, The Archbishop’s Ceiling is the right Arthur Miller play at the right time. Add in the excellence of the Arvada Center production, and you have a must see event that combines a rarely seen Miller play with important ideas that still resonate with us decades after Miller raised them.
This show, in my view is appropriate for all ages (I counted just one F bomb), but it’s a show about ideas, not action. Younger teens will be bored quickly.
For those who are interested, here is a link to Arthur Miller’s testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in June, 1956.
This show will close on April 19, 2015.
PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:
We tried an Arvada Center recommendation, 3 Sons, at 64th Avenue and Indiana Street in Arvada. 3 Sons has a full menu of Italian specialities. It’s about 15 minutes from the theater, weather and traffic permitting.
|3 Pigs Specialty Pizza at 3 Sons.|
We were running late and asked Nicki, our waitress, if we could get a pizza and make it to the show by 7:15. She assured us we could, and she made sure the kitchen got our order moving. The 3 Pigs Speciality Pizza (bacon, pepperoni, and sausage) was excellent, as were the salads. We were disappointed with the Happy Hour sangria, which was just ok at best. Service was excellent. We will definitely go back to 3 Sons when we’re in the area.
Artistic Producer: Rod A. Lansberry
Director: Brett Aune
Lighting Designer: Jon Olson
Sound Designer: Grant Evenson
Set Designer: Brian Mallgrave
Costume Designer: Clare Henkel
Wigs and Makeup Design: Diana Ben-Kiki
Stage Manager: Jonathan D. Allsup
Adrian: Rodney Lizcano
Maya: Heather Lacy
Marcus: William Hahn
Irina: Adrian Egolf
Sigmund: Michael Morgan