By Juan A. Ramirez
Bernard Weinraub’s new play, “Fall,” which had its world premiere in a Huntington Theatre Company production last night, would have made a great storybook. Or at least a worthwhile PBS docudrama. The untold story of playwright Arthur Miller’s “secret son,” Daniel, whose Down syndrome kept his parents from ever publicly acknowledging him, while intriguing, has already been wrung dry in an extensive 2007 Vanity Fair article. Approaching it from a journalistic standpoint, Weinraub adds nothing in the way of tension or intrigue, instead presenting it as a largely fictionalized but painfully literal dramatization of a man’s failure to act.
Despite having written several of the 20th century’s most iconic dramas, Arthur Miller (played by Josh Stamberg) cannot seem to reconcile his capital-M Morals with his own life. When he and third wife, Inge Morathe (Joanne Kelly), discover their newborn son has Down syndrome, their marriage is thrown on the rocks as they struggle to cope with the then-little understood condition. Or so the play wants one to infer. There is not much in the way of onstage drama or psychological exploration. Instead, the first half hour or so is a fairly rote depiction of two people encountering a problem and choosing to do nothing about it.
For a couple as highbrow and emotionally aware as Miller and Morathe — a successful photographer in her own right — they don’t argue or raise their voice much, except for when the script demands them to. In these instances, Stamberg and Kelly transform from corpse-like to manic with as much nuance as they can muster in a play that seems to be content with just detailing the boring minutiae of a situation bursting with unfulfilled dramatic possibility. Nevermind any insight into why such a celebrated man of words and sentiment would wholly discard one of his children, or why an intelligent woman like Inge would agree to this when she clearly would rather play a role in her son’s life.
Early scenes try hard to set up meta-parallels between Miller’s works and the play itself, referring to his belief that father-son tales like Oedipus Rex and Hamlet are the best in the canon. Sadly, “Fall” winds up paralleling Miller’s own failures in “After the Fall,” which is accused by his wife and producer of being little more than a sensational retelling of his previous marriage to Marilyn Monroe; Weinraub generously name drops celebrities and litters the script with references to Miller’s global success, constantly remarking that his works have played in Rome, Tokyo and other world capitals as if the egotistic playwright were not already aware.
The most damning parallel here, however, is the way the production traipses out Daniel (Nolan James Pierce) in the opening and closing scenes before leaving him entirely out of the story, appearing off-stage in certain scenes but never given the chance to present his thoughts on the matter. The play isn’t framed as it being told from his perspective, nor does it include the one person whose voice should most be heard, leaving his brief bookend appearances feeling cheap and sentimental.
No, the main attraction in “Fall” is Arthur Miller and the ongoing hit parade of his life as America’s leading moralist. The production itself doesn’t do much to elevate the material, nor does Peter DuBois’ direction stray far from the absolute essentials of stage movement. The inhabitants of this space move about as if on two dimensions, appropriate to their equally flat characterizations. It’s a shame — Daniel deserves better.