Sometimes when I'm watching a great play, I wonder what it was like to be the person who thought it up. I mean, imagine how the world looked to the man with Death of a Salesman and The Crucible embedded in his synapses. To us mere mortals, these works are overwhelming in their brilliance; but for their creator, Arthur Miller, they're just another day at the office -- an office, and this is frightening, that never closed. (Interestingly enough, Truman Capote once said that the only great writer he knew who didn't drink was Miller.)
Sometimes when I'm watching a not-so-great play, my concern actually increases. What must it be like to have all of that in your head, but not be able to get it onto the stage? Hell, surely. Perhaps one reason Miller didn't drink is that, fortunately, he usually managed to give his vision theatrical life.
But not with The Last Yankee. The play started out a 20-minute piece in the early '90s. A few years later, Miller rewrote it into this 80-minute one-act which, for better or worse, makes its local premiere at the Red Barn Theatre.
"Obscure" doesn't even come close to describing this three-scene play. It opens with two men in the visitors' lounge of a mental institution, having a desultory conversation about their wives, patients suffering from depression. In the next scene, we meet the women, who talk rather than go out to see their husbands. And the third scene brings all four together.
It's amazing how many words Miller can shove into 80 minutes; it's strange how little sense any of them make. I think (and I can't stress that enough) that Miller's saying something about the erosion of the American Dream. But I think that I think that only because that's usually what Miller wrote about. In The Last Yankee, he's written four characters as metaphors -- but what each of them signifies zoomed right passed my little pointed head.
I couldn't follow it at all, so I certainly can't imagine what it must be like to stage it ... something that's stumped director Jeffrey R. Simpson and his cast as well. This may not sound like praise, but I congratulate them just for being able to remember their extravagantly miscalculated lines.
Listen: Arthur Miller was a genius, and I will willingly sit through anything he wrote. With The Last Yankee, that's exactly what I did.
The Last Yankee continues through Sun., Sept. 2. Red Barn Theatre. 3101 McCully Road, Allison Park. 412-487-4390.