My new "Think Again" column is called "The End of Newspapers and the Decline of Democracy."
Though I was shocked to see it at first, I supposed it should have come as no surprise to me that Judith Miller is at least as discerning a theater critic as she is when it comes to weapons of mass destruction and Bush administration lies, deception and folly. Her pan of Mike Nichols’ revival of Death of a Salesman, starring Philip Seymour Hoffmann, is one of the most wrong-headed pieces of prose I’ve read since her parroting of Dick Cheney’s nonsense about yellowcake uranium, though to be fair, few people are likely to die as a result. More optimistically, few people are likely to do anything at all as a result, given the deservedly unreserved raves the production received in New York and The New Yorker. I vaguely recall seeing both the George C. Scott and Dustin Hoffman versions of the play and while it was too long ago for me to make any sensible comparison, I can hardly remember being so riveted (often painfully so) by any performance anywhere as watching this magnificent play. Much of it is cliché today, but here is where the cliché was invented and, seen in context, these clichés take on added power for the truths they reveal about life in a capitalist country and what it does to men. I actually left the theater speechless and since I saw it just before opening night, I sent a few emails out to friends suggesting that they buy the tickets before the reviews came out; even friends who lived out of town. Hoffman’s performance is one for the ages, but the rest of the cast has the right combination of explosiveness and tenderness you’d want in this play. I’ve been writing about Arthur Miller for my next book, but I’ve never “felt” the power of what made his reputation live so long and travel so far and wide until I saw Nichols’ Salesman.
And while we’re on the subject of Miller, my friends at the Library of America have just released volume II of his collected works. Not many people sit down and read plays but Miller’s later works are useful exceptions to this rule. Not many people ended up seeing Miller’s works after the big four (All My Sons, Salesman, The Crucible and View from the Bridge) and now’s your chance to see what you missed. Arthur Miller: Collected Plays 1964-1982 (Library of America)
I also want to mention the terrific and completely crazy evening I spent at 92Y for the Friars’ Club celebration of Jerry Lewis’ 86th birthday. What an amazing guy. I have never seen anyone so needy and so mean (often at the same time) to his audience. But you can’t, nor should you wish to deny his genius. So thanks to the folks at the Y for that. (The evening began with Richard Belzer crooning, “Barechu es adoni homoverah.”) Read all about it, here. Oh and last night, I saw Nathan Englander and Joshua Foer discuss their new New American Haggadah, published by Little Brown. I am an enormous fan of Englander’s and strongly recommend the audio version of his new short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. I’m looking forward to using the Haggadah.