In a continued effort to bring our audiences closer to the plays we present, I have reached out to several of Gulfshore Playhouse’s immediate circle of friends to talk with them about their experiences with Arthur Miller, one of America’s greatest playwrights and the author of The Playhouse’s current production, All My Sons. The first few people I spoke with had the privilege of working with Mr. Miller in a professional capacity. My interview with Suzanne Bradbeer and Naomi Buck is currently running in our playbill for All My Sons (and can be seen here on our blog).
Yesterday I had the honor of speaking with a woman who had a very different experience with Mr. Miller. Ellaine Rosen, a patron of Gulfshore Playhouse is Arthur Miller’s second cousin (her father was his first cousin). The picture that emerged from her childhood memories of her cousin was at once similar to the stories I heard from Ms. Bradbeer and Ms. Buck, but also different in compelling and enlightening ways.
When we began our chat over the phone, Mrs. Rosen quickly went over the concrete memories she had of her cousin from when she was a child growing up in New York City. Every summer her family would go to a part of Coney Island known as Villanova Court. Villanova Court was a bungalow colony that opened in 1910 and closed in the 1970’s. “The whole family would go. My mother’s family, my father’s family. It seemed like everyone there was family.”
Her memories of her time at that coastal retreat include “a tall, skinny, very quiet, introverted, kind, generous, lovely sweet man. A very nice man.” Mr. Miller would arrive and join in the activities that occupied the rest of her family. Games of pinochle with Mrs. Rosen’s father and both grandfathers. A game of catch with a beach ball between a young Mrs. Rosen and her older cousin, Mr. Miller stands out in her mind. “He was not full of himself. He was just one of the family.”
Other stories of family lore were repeated, such as the time her parents went to a bar mitzvah and were seated at a table with Mr. Miller and Marilyn Monroe, or the tale of Mr. Miller arriving at Mrs. Rosen’s grandmother’s funeral and perhaps unintentionally overshadowing the proceedings as the gathered mourners turned at his entrance with hushed whispers of “That’s Arthur Miller.”
But as we spoke more, what really began to stand out to me was not necessarily the memories of the specific man, but the pride that the whole family felt in having Mr. Miller as one of their own. Mrs. Rosen spoke of her family as being “very Zionistic, very proud of being Jewish, and very well learned.” Mr. Miller’s accomplishments as a playwright, especially the themes in his work that reflected Jewish ideas of social justice, were sources of great admiration in the family.
I asked Mrs. Rosen to tell me a little more about this idea of social justice. “ The ideas of social justice originate in the Torah, and are then elaborated on in The Book of Isaiah and The Book of Amos. Always taking care of the underdog, taking care of everyone, justice for all.” For anyone who knows Mr. Miller’s work, it is very clear that these words ring absolutely true to the main themes that Mr. Miller was tackling. In fact, this morning as I was preparing to write this blog, I decided to read The Book of Amos to try and get a better grasp on these concepts. I came across a passage that seemed incredibly relevant to All My Sons. So relevant, that I began to wonder if it wasn’t a coincidence.
5:014 Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you as ye have spoken.
5:015 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
Immediately upon reading these lines the final images of All My Sons popped into my head. Joe Keller has admitted the wrong he has done at the insistence of his son Chris (a righteous and good man) and has gone inside and shot himself. Chris’s mother Kate holds her son in her arms, asking him to not take this on himself. She implores him to “Live! Live!”
Seems pretty spot on to me…
But back to the interview…
As Mrs. Rosen and I continued to talk, the themes of education and learning and scholarship came up again and again. This family that brought Mr. Miller and Mrs. Rosen into the world valued these things so much. “I wish I could stop,” Mrs. Rosen said in regard to her incessant need to keep learning (She is a docent at the Baker Museum of Art, she is training to be a docent at The Holocaust Museum, and continues to lecture). “Education was very, very, very important. Very important.”
In thinking about Arthur Miller, a man who worked into his eighties, revisiting plays, trying to get them right, always playing with form and content, the idea that continued education, continued curiosity was highly regarded in his family is no surprise.
I am so thankful to Mrs. Rosen for taking the time to talk with me and be willing to share some of her memories and experiences with us here at the Playhouse. Getting to work on a masterpiece like All My Sons is blessing enough. But to get to explore the man and circumstances around his work has been such a gift. Again, I thank Mrs. Rosen and Naomi Buck and Suzanne Bradbeer for sharing with us and shedding some light on the man who created such lasting classics for the theatre.