By Beki Pineda
THE ARCHBISHOP’S CEILING. Written by Arthur Miller; directed by Brett Aune. Produced by the Arvada Center (6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada) through April 19. Tickets available at 720-898-7200 or www.arvadacenter.org.
First of all, thank you to the Arvada Center for choosing to produce this little-known Arthur Miller play. It’s always a risk—but an artistic adventure—to venture outside a playwright’s familiar, oft-produced works. A question always exists: Is this play not done because it isn’t as good as the better-known works? This is certainly not the case with THE ARCHBISHOP’S CEILING.
Second of all, let me just say that the always successful Arvada tech team outdid even themselves on this production. Brian Mallgrave designed a star-shaped, nearly-in-the-round set that gives the actors levels to explore and space to play. The dimensions give the overall effect of a cramped second-story European study/living room/music room that once, long ago, belonged to an archbishop. Today it belongs to Marcus, a journalist. The décor reflects his literary interests and eclectic travels, and the artistically arranged clutter denotes a man of taste, learning and a degree of casual wealth. The “clutter” was lovingly gathered by the prop/set-dressing crew of Meghan Markiewicz. It is as though they walked through the biggest antique store in town and picked randomly appropriate pieces. A veritable treat for the eyes! A James Bond-type soundtrack designed by Grant Evenson immediately sets the mood of danger and intrigue. Music plays an important part in this production, and is always spot-on in fulfilling its function of either breaking the mood or covering a conversation. I would be totally remiss not to congratulate wig designer Diana Ben-Kiki for the beautiful wig she created for one of the actors. It makes him look 10 years younger.
Nobody knows for sure if the room is bugged, but from the moment of arrival, everyone assumes that that is possible. In the early 1970s in Eastern Europe and Russia, that was a safe assumption. One by one the characters arrive, their relationships are explored and their personal solutions to their mutual problem are discussed. But they must be discussed in an ambiguous manner, with lots of upward glances, because of the potential listeners.
Adrian (Rodney Lizcano) is a writer in town for a conference who has come to his friend Marcus’s apartment. He discovers a former mistress Maya (Heather Lacy) taking care of the place in Marcus’s absence. Marcus (William Hahn) and his new young friend (Adrian Egolf) arrive in time to break up a potential reunion of the former lovers. Finally, the man in trouble—Sigmund, another writer (Michael Morgan)—bursts in. His safety is their mutual problem. He has written something both foolish and brave that has caught the eye of the ruling regime, and a decision must be made about whether he is to stay and fight, allow himself to be arrested, or flee the country.
In spite of this seemingly simple scenario, the play is dense with political overtones, fraught with a feeling of imminent danger, and complicated by the personal histories of all the characters. Can they all still really trust each other? It is obvious that, in spite of her past personal relationships with both Adrian and Marcus, Maya cares most deeply for Sigmund. This is a discussion in which the audience becomes deeply invested. Under the artful direction of Brett Aune, the play never drags or becomes “talky.” There is purpose and function in every movement, every line.
Why do this show now? Perhaps to illustrate the beginnings of our current loss of privacy. Living in an era when your location can be tracked through your phone; when terrorist bombers’ casual walks through the streets of Boston can be followed step by step through CCTV; when Internet suppliers know your personal tastes in everything from shoe size to books read to medicines ordered—how far down the path that Miller explores have we gone? It gives one pause.
WOW factor: 9