Like his theatrical inspiration Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Miller frequently explored the inescapable influence of past events on people’s present lives, and how memory can work irrationally to distort or even eliminate unpalatable truths. This double bill of one-act plays from 1987 is a late variation on the theme, not entirely successful but interesting in showing how the playwright continued to experiment with new ways of expressing these preoccupations.
In I Can’t Remember Anything, Leonora goes for lunch in the modest apartment of at Leo, a retired civil engineer who was best friend to her deceased husband of 45 years. While he suffers badly from arthritis and struggles to make the mathematical calculations that he used to for work, she is knocking back the whisky (or “coloured water”) and seems to be starting Alzheimer’s as she cannot remember things she has done or basic information.
Although this slight work does not really go anywhere, the relationship between the two old friends is authentically and touchingly drawn, with a real sense of intimacy even as they bicker, in two finely drawn performances. Anna Calder-Marshall’s Leonora is anxiously loquacious, trying to get a reaction out of David Burke’s more taciturn, self-contained Leo, who responds to her complaints with dry humour. Their shared experiences are what give their friendship meaning but as dementia sets in so too does their hold on their identities.
Though also only 45 minutes’ long, Clara is a somewhat more substantial piece. New York Detective Lieutenant Fine is investigating the murder of a young social worker, Clara Kroll, in her flat, apparently by someone she knew. In order to uncover the truth, he questions her father Albert, who found her body, about the work she did rehabilitating ex-prisoners, in particular a Puerto Rican convicted of murder with whom she was having a relationship..
Miller sets up a thriller-like scenario, but though the aim is to find out the name of the possible murderer, the play is not a whodunit but a psychological drama about repressed memory. As Albert open up emotionally about his relationship with his daughter, there are flashbacks of him with Clara as a girl and images of his recovered memories projected onto a screen.
Rolf Saxon’s performance does not really capture the inner conflict of Albert, who feels guilty because he blames his own anti-racist stance for Clara’s dangerous work, while Roger Sloman’s Fine, who himself has suffered anti-Semitism in the past, seems uneasily caught between psychoanalyst and detective. Laura Pyper plays the eponymous do-gooder with idealistic sincerity, and Adrian Grove is the jocular Officer Tierney, for whom murder is a routine event.
Ed Viney directs both plays with understated control and Anna Finch’s designs contain considerable detail within such a small acting area. Danger: Memory! is not vintage Miller but even minor work by such a master is worth seeing.