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The Last Yankee Playwright: Arthur Miller
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2001-07-25


They seem to have nothing in common, these two men. Sixtysomething John Frick, born of blue-collar stock, has worked his way up the industrial ladder to become a successful multi-manufacturer. Fortysomething Leroy Hamilton, on the other hand, can trace his ancestors to one of the Founding Fathers, but earns his living as a humble tradesman...a choice of vocation that leads to words being exchanged...patronizing on one side, and hostile on the other. But this generation-gap duo are similar in that they meet while killing time in the waiting room of the State Mental Institution where their respective wives are presently housed. And later, when we meet their incarcerated spouses, it becomes clear that these husbands are in part responsible for the nervous breakdowns ( or "severe depression", as it is called nowadays ) that brought them there.

"In this country, anyone with any SENSE has got to be depressed!" Leroy declares vehemently at one point. Since it is 1991, he might be referring to the widening gap between America's rich and the poor. Or frictions between Depression-era citizens still jealously guarding their hard-won security, and post-WW II baby-boomers still seeking romance in self-imposed poverty. But whatever its social context, the troubles facing the Fricks and the Hamiltons demand personal adjustment for their cure. Neglected by her work-obsessed husband, Mrs. Frick has withdrawn into passive fantasies of Hollywood musicals. While Mrs. Hamilton, herself the child of immigrants, wants a better life for her children than the unambitious Leroy appears willing to provide.

However profound its insights, 75 minutes of spiritual deposition could easily drive audiences to nervous breakdowns as well. Fortunately, director Michael Colucci and his actors embrace each ambivalent personality, finding hidden clues to their current malaise and interpretive grace notes within the most banal utterances.

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Some mechanical failure marred the preview performance I attended, but the cast surmounted these impediments to create richly textured characters at once familiar and uniquely individual...in particular, Sam Perry, who renders the intractable John Frick no more unsympathetic than necessary, and Roslyn Alexander, whose poignant portrayal of the wistful Karen Frick transcends clich├ęs to paint a haunting picture of geriatric angst.

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