Critic's Notebook: Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne Celebrate Playwright Arthur Miller's Centennial
Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Barkin and even Governor Andrew Cuomo took part in this benefit for the Arthur Miller Foundation for Theater and Film Education.
It's to be hoped that casting directors were in attendance at Monday's night's One Night, 100 Years, an all-star celebration of Arthur Miller on the centennial of his birth. Benefiting the Arthur Miller Foundation for Theater and Film Education, dedicated to promoting theater and film education in New York City's public schools, the evening held at the Lyceum Theatre — currently home to the acclaimed revival of Miller's A View from the Bridge — featured scenes from the playwright's classic works with casts that would make producers salivate.
The performers included Bradley Cooper and Nina Arianda in After the Fall; Laurence Fishburne and Peter Sarsgaard in Death of a Salesman; Alec Baldwin, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ellen Barkin in All My Sons, and Ron Leibman (making his first Broadway appearance in over two decades, since his Tony Award-winning turn in Angels in America) and John Turturro in The Price. The tantalizing prospect of an all-black version of Salesman was raised not only by Fishburne's Willy Loman, but also by another scene from the play featuring LaTanya Richardson Jackson, McKinley Belcher III and Ray Fisher.
Despite being simple readings, the scenes mostly crackled with theatrical electricity. They were complemented by readings from Miller's autobiography, Timebends, and his letters to wives Inge Morath and Marilyn Monroe and even his psychoanalyst. Providing meaningful context to the excerpted plays, the letters were read by actors Brian Dennehy and Scott Shepherd and, in a nice touch, such fellow playwrights as Ayad Akhtar (the Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced); Tony Kushner, another Pulitzer winner; Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) and A.R. Gurney (Love Letters).
The evening featured a short speech by Governor Andrew Cuomo — "It's a treat to be here, I've been shoveling snow for two days," he joked — who spoke about the importance of arts as well as science education.
Filmmaker Rebecca Miller, the playwright's daughter, delivered an overview of the foundation's mission and described the proceedings as a "homespun evening woven out of great spools of good will." But it was 93-year-old actress Joan Copeland, Miller's sister, who provided the most moving moments.
"Writing plays was like breathing to my brother," she said, recounting how, when he was staying with her during the last months of his life, he slowly made his way to his desk to write every day. Leaving the stage, she tearfully thanked the audience for celebrating the legacy of "my big brother." There was nary a dry eye in the house.