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.