Death of a great moral dramatist

In critiquing society without condescension, Miller acquired respect and became an icon.

Arthur Miller was one of a select few stage-theater personalities to gain true celebrity status. In fact, Miller is probably one of the largest stars of our arts community in the last century. The loss resulting from his death Thursday is likely felt far and wide, and will be for some time.

Local audiences have had many opportunities to enjoy Miller’s work: his “Death of a Salesman” was part of the Guthrie Theater’s 1963 inaugural season, and four of his plays have run on the Guthrie Theater mainstage in the last nine years. In 2002, “Redemption Blues” premiered at the theater. How often Miller’s works have run on other professional and community stages in the Twin Cities would be impossible to calculate.

His passing is a great time to shed light on a wonderful career and the timeless body of work he left behind.

Miller had strong political views and was not shy about expressing them. His 1953 play, “The Crucible,” was a scathing, allegorical condemnation of McCarthyism – issued during Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy’s most-powerful moments. A later work, “Redemption Blues” dives head-first (and unfortunately haphazardly) into religion, politics and the conflation of the two.

Nonetheless, it is unlikely Miller will be remembered in political terms. Other great artists who displayed leftist tendencies, Spike Lee, Stanley Kubrick and Tony Kushner, to name a few, don’t enjoy the same magnanimous reputation.

Miller expressed ideas central to his own conscience, while understanding life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. He took high and mighty ideals, such as the American dream, and brought them to a basic level, showing their darker side. His plays emphasized and ridiculed deluded or counterproductive societal ideas on sex, success, family, politics and religion, without coming off as self-righteous or uncompassionate.

For example, in “Death of a Salesman,” Willie Loman is deluded and faulted but a lovable character. More strikingly, Joe Keller, of “All My Sons,” is not wholly unsympathetic, though his factory manufactured defective parts that killed U.S. pilots, including his own son.

To conclude with another playwright, “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”