Mr Peters' Connections at the Almeida Theatre
Arthur Miller is one of the world's greatest living playwrights – indeed, according to a National Theatre poll last year, he's the most important playwright, living or dead, of the last century. But even the greatest artists have lows as well as highs. And with Miller, along with award-winning plays such as The Crucible, Death of a Salesman and All My Sons (currently being revived at the National's Cottesloe), we have confusing little works like Mr Peters' Connections (in its British premiere here, directed by Michael Blakemore) which, if not exactly a low, certainly doesn't reach the dramatic heights of its predecessors.
While waiting for his wife one afternoon, Mr Peters dozes off in a derelict nightclub. Or at least that's what appears to happen – it could also be that Peter J Davison s black and white set of soaring skyscrapers and translucent divides is a figment of Peters imagination, and he is in fact dying in a hospital bed somewhere. Either way, all that subsequently transpires is filtered through the gauze of Peters semi-consciousness. Characters drift in and out aimlessly, a dreamlike hodge-podge of identities – Mrs Peters, a dead brother (or estate agent), a thuggish shoe salesman, a black bag lady, a dead ex-lover named Cathy-May (who bears a striking resemblance to Miller's own late ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe), Mr Peters pregnant daughter (or just a woman off the street) and her boyfriend.
Peters, perhaps like Miller himself who is now 85, is “older than everyone I ever knew”. He reviews his life, searching for a meaning, yearning for simpler times, and struggling to understand a world he no longer recognises. Potentially moving stuff, and yet Peters continual refrain – “What is the subject?” – leaves me irritated.
A question Miller would have been better off asking is: “Where is the plot?” Or character development for that matter. Aside from vague mentions of a past career as a Pan-Am pilot, we re told precious little about Peters – what happened with Cathy-May and how she died, for starters. And so, with no depth of story or plot, there's nothing really to carry the audience's interest forwards.
The cast offer some diversions. American actor John Cullum (who ll be familiar to fans of TV's Northern Exposure or ER) is watchable as Mr Peters, and the supporting cast are certainly capable even if they have scant opportunity to make an impact.
And for all it's faults, there are flashes of brilliance in Miller's script – lines like “How like sex the trumpet is, it always leaves you kind of sad when it's finished” that stick in your memory and a spirit of nostalgia that's infectious. But thoughtful isn't the same thing as entertaining. Though a short play (just 80 minutes), Mr Peters' Connections is extraordinarily long and ultimately disappointing.