Many writers would prefer to keep their college works out of the limelight. The same may be said for Arthur Miller. The famed playwright, known for his acclaimed works including “Death of a Salesman” and “All My Sons,” wrote a play titled “No Villain” in his sophomore year at the University of Michigan in 1936. The effort spanned six days and won him the $250 Avery Hopwood Award prize, which funded his return to university. He called his work “the most autobiographical work I would ever write.” However, despite the accolade, the play was not produced until 2016. Thanks to director Sean Turner’s efforts – which included obtaining the script from Miller’s alma mater and obtaining permission from the trust controlling Miller’s works – the play finally saw the light of day on the London stage.
Long Island audiences now have the opportunity to get a glimpse into Miller’s roots at Manes Studio Theatre Long Island in Lindenhurst. Directed by David Dubin, the American premiere displays immense passion and dedication from the talented cast and production team. While the script lacks the polish of Miller’s famous works, seeing it come to life is arguably more about Miller than his characters or plot.
The play introduces us to the Simons – a Brooklyn Jewish family in the midst of The Great Depression. Much of the action revolves around conflict between patriarch Abe (Gary Milenko) and his son Arnold (Alex Rich), returning from a year at university with a newfound fire for leftist politics. With the outbreak of a garment strike at Abe’s coat and suit factory in conjunction with talk of communism, tensions are at a high in the household.
Each actor is well cast in their roles. Mr. Milenko captures the essence of a man losing grip on the wills of his sons to much disdain. At times it’s easy to forget he is playing a part with the natural delivery of Miller’s dialogue. Gail Merzer Behrens is equally expert as Ester, the matriarch of the family. She easily earns empathy from the audience as she attempts cling to what she knows despite the onslaught of changes shaking her world.
As Arnold, Mr. Rich gives an increasingly fiery performance as a representative of a new generation inspired to leave the perceived airs of their elders behind. A sincere Giovanni Marine, as Arnold’s brother Ben (considered by Miller scholars as a stand-in for Miller), exhibits a palpable reaction to the crumbling veneer of the character’s family. Both actors exude the essence of the generational divide that develops every decade or so, making the piece undeniably timely despite its 1930s setting.
The rest of the cast all deliver, no matter how brief their stage time. It is clear Dubin has carefully selected his cast. Mike Blangiforti makes an impression as the elderly grandfather while Anastasia Moraitakis breaks tension with a handful of memorable comedic moments as the young daughter Maxine. She shares the role with Mikayla Desroches, appearing in alternate performances.
This production also boasts exceptional technical merit. The costumes and props designed by Amber Miller capture the period to perfection while also accurately representing the possessions of a family holding onto lost wealth. The set is also a sight to behold. The action takes place in both the centered living room of the Simons’ home and the office and factory balcony on stage house right. With renovations scheduled, I am excited to see what the Manes Studio Theatre’s team will soon be able to create on stage.
While it may be debated whether Miller would have wanted “No Villain” staged, viewing it at Manes Studio Theatre is a must-see experience.
“No Villain” runs until February 16. Visit Manes Studio Theatre Long Island’s website for additional information and tickets.