Call of the Wild. Arthur Miller. Scott Nolte. Taproot¬â„s ¬Å“Enemy of the People.’

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John Eldridge re-images God as wild, describing humans made in God’s image as “wild at heart.” I concluded long ago that when God “calls” humans into service, they are calls to the wild. Such calls may appear irrational, out-of-step and will most certainly destine the “called” to the life of an outsider, seeming independent, wild ones who color outside the lines.

Such was Arthur Miller’s call as a playwright and I am inspired by his artistic vision while fully aware of his fallen-ness.

1) Miller had a moral conscience

[The Broadway producer Robert Whitehead, who worked frequently with Mr. Miller, said in reminiscing about their work together that he found a “rabbinical righteousness” in the playwright. “In his work, there is almost a conscious need to be a light unto the world,” he said, adding, “He spent his life seeking answers to what he saw around him as a world of injustice.”]

Miller’s greatest personal tragedy was his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, a moral dilemma he met and failed, divorcing his wife to marry an obsession in a relationship Norman Mailer likened to the union of “the Great American Brain” and “the Great American Body.”

2) Miller was shaped by the events of his time.

[his reputation rests on a handful of his best-known plays, the dramas of guilt and betrayal and redemption that continue to be revived frequently at theaters all over the world. These dramas of social conscience were drawn from life and informed by the Great Depression, the event that he believed had a more profound impact on the nation than any other in American history, except, possibly, the Civil War. “In play after play,” the drama critic Mel Gussow wrote in The New York Times, “he holds man responsible for his and for his neighbor’s actions.”]

3) Miller was driven by a wild, irresistible sense of the importance of his calling.

[Writing plays was for him, he once said, like breathing. He wrote in “Timebends” that when he was young, he “imagined that with the possible exception of a doctor saving a life, writing a worthy play was the most important thing a human being could do.” He also saw plays as a way to change America and, as he put it, “that meant grabbing people and shaking them by the back of the neck.”]

[Esquire 2003) ‘I’m a writer, so I write. That’s my job. But it’s more than a job. I just have a terrifically pleasant feeling if I create a form that completes itself and you can walk around it. It’s a whole object.” ]

He declared his own obit in the 1980’s [In the late 1980’s, after his autobiography was published, he reflected in an interview on the course he had taken in life. “It has gone through my mind how much time I wasted in the theater, if only because when you write a book you pack it up and send it off,” he said. “In the theater, you spend months casting actors who are busy in the movies anyway and then to get struck down in half an hour, as has happened to me more than once.”He concluded: “You have to say to yourself: ‘Why do it? It’s almost insulting.’ “But when asked how he wanted to be remembered, he did not hesitate. “I hope as a playwright,” he said. “That would be all of it.”]

4) Miller remained true to his calling despite the obstacles, criticism and failure.

[“You know,” he said, “a playwright lives in an occupied country. He’s the enemy. And if you can’t live like that, you don’t stay. It’s tough. He’s got to be able to take a whack, and he’s got to swallow bicycles and digest them.” What Mr. Miller could not swallow was critics. During a 1987 interview, he dismissed them as “people who can’t sing or dance.” It was a reprise of a bitter theme he had sounded throughout his working life. “I’m a fatalist,” he said. “I consider I am rejected in principle. My work is and, through my work, I am. If it’s accepted, it’s miraculous or the result of a misunderstanding.” He also once said, “I never had a critic in my corner in this country,” and that he never saved the reviews of his plays, even the raves: “There’s an instinct in me that I had to exist apart from them, lest I rely on them for my esteem or despair. I don’t know a critic who penetrates the center of anything.” ]

[Mr. Miller also despaired of the American theater, which he believed was too profit-oriented to allow writers and actors to flourish. He noted that opera and ballet in America were supported through contributions but that what he called the “brutal inanity” of Broadway required that the American theater pay for itself. “If the thing is gonna be regarded the same as the fish business, it ain’t gonna work,” he said in the feisty tones of his New York City boyhood. “In the whole entertainment enterprise, the theater has become a fifth wheel. People only take parts hoping it will lead to the movies.’]

5) Miller took his craft seriously.

[“I laid myself a wager,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I would hold back this play until I was as sure as I could be that every page was integral to the whole and would work; then, if my judgment of it proved wrong, I would leave the theater behind and write in other forms.” That play was “All My Sons,” which Brooks Atkinson, the Times drama critic, called “an honest, forceful drama about a group of people caught up in a monstrous swindle that has caused the death of 21 Army pilots because of defectively manufactured cylinder heads.” It was selected as one of the 10 best plays of 1947, won two Tony Awards and took the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. (Eugene O’Neill’s “Iceman Cometh” was the runner-up.) “All My Sons” enjoyed a revival and new relevance when it was shown on public television in 1987, a year after the Challenger space shuttle exploded because of defective seals in the joints of its booster rocket.]

Sadly, according to an earlier interview in Esquire magazine, Miller was a man who did not believe in God. “I don’t believe in the afterlife. I don’t believe there is a God. The whole thing is accidental. Whenever I hear somebody’s in touch with God, I look for the exit.” (Esquire, July 1, 2003)

The day of Miller’s death our family bought tickets to and then attended Seattle Taproot Theatre’s performance of Miller’s adaptation of Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People.”

It is an exemplar of his work. [In 1950, Mr. Miller wrote an adaptation of Ibsen’s drama “An Enemy of the People.” This 19th-century play, whose hero resisted pressure to conform to the ideology of the day, resonated in the McCarthyite climate of the mid-20th century. Mr. Miller was encouraged to undertake the work by one of the foremost acting couples of that generation, Fredric March and his wife, Florence Eldridge, who had agreed to play the leading roles. “An Enemy of the People,” in philosophy at least, served as a forerunner of “The Crucible,” a dramatization of the Salem witch hunt of the 17th century that implicitly articulated Mr. Miller’s outrage at McCarthyism.]

Under Scott Nolte’s direction, Taproot delivers a perfectly paced, magnificent production. As the Seattle Weekly observes, “The only sure way to let such a familiar story resonate anew is to put on a solid show, and the always professional crew at Taproot is up to the task here.” The entire ensemble is brilliant, but Terry Edward Moore’s performance luminescently emanates the spirit of Dr. Stockman, a man of conscience:

1) Dr. Stockman discovers that the local spring water, touted for medicinal purposes, is actually poison, a fact he will broadcast in order to remedy it.
2) He actually believes that by telling the truth he will be a hero, perhaps get a raise in the company his truth-telling may destroy.
3) His brother, the mayor, and chairman of the company’s board, comments that without moral authority he cannot govern, so begs his brother to keep his findings (facts dismissed as convictions) about the poison water to himself. After all, the truth will demolish the mayor’s moral authority.
4) The Doctor’s wife is conflicted. She has been poor and wants her husband to provide properly for his family, a state achieved only by continuing in the successful spring water business. She wavers, reminding her husband, “what good is the truth without power?
5) The mayor tries to restrain his brother from making the public aware of the poison well water, arguing against free speech by observing that “these are not ordinary times.”
6) The Doctor recognizes that the majority is often not right and as a matter of fact seldom is, because “before the many can know the truth, one man must know it.

The play captures the spirit of Arthur Miller by exploring timeless issues of conscience.

A successful play entertains, but the great ones are also applicable. My own family evidenced the greatness of this play by engaging in lively dialogue about our family’s call to the wild and our outside-the-box execution of that call, I felt rewarded when my chidren grasped that I have erratically but faithfully attempted to pursue God’s call despite consequences. As in Ibsen, my wife and kids bear the brunt of my faltering attempts at obedience.

Also, I left the theatre with a renewed appreciation for Scott and Pam Nolte, who for over 25 years have pursued God’s wild call to theatre for Seattle despite the challenges and obstacles. Their faithfulness exemplifies the tenacity of conscience and call as does the company of thespian friends who stand with them.

Those who hear God’s call through their talents, as did Arthur Miller, are blessed, but those who hear God’s voice and choose to believe and follow the living God are doubly blessed, because, as Eric Liddell proclaimed, when we use our talents for God’s glory, “we feel God’s pleasure.” Last night at Taproot God’s pleasure pulsated through the place and into the lives of the people gathered there.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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