Only 20 years after its premiere, Arthur Miller’s play is already a period piece. Miller shows two Connecticut men visiting their wives who have been admitted to a state mental hospital suffering from depression, and implicitly compares their conversations to the American national conversation overall: social, political, the whole shebang. Leroy Hamilton (the last Yankee of the title and, in his descent from founding father Alexander Hamilton, the signpost to the symbolism of the play) and his wife Patricia find it too easy to relapse into bickering if they do not actively recall their shared feelings; John Frick and his wife Karen connect much less, held together more by inertia. All, to varying extents, share New England virtues such as doggedness and vices such as repression. But in 2013, even the fractious Fricks are far too harmonious to represent the typical exchanges in contemporary American polity: those resemble more one of the extreme episodes of Jackie Gleason’s 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners.
What remains in Miller’s piece, then, is a 70-minute human drama. In Cathal Cleary’s production, Paul Hickey laudably refuses to be any kind of paragon as Leroy; he is cool towards Frick and often testy with Matilda Ziegler’s Pattie. Andy de la Tour’s Frick moves convincingly from comic ingratiation to embarrassing short temper in the final scene, as Kika Markham’s Karen performs a grotesque yet affecting tap routine, itself a sort of Millerian up-yours to the sentimental affirmations of all too many American dramas at a similar point.
There are still one or two overtones in the air: since Leroy’s profession is also Miller’s hobby, carpentry, there has been speculation (denied by the author) that the Hamiltons are to some extent a version of Miller and his second wife Marilyn Monroe. And Jamie Vartan’s set design, making us enter (as with the Young Vic production of Hamleta couple of years ago) through hospital corridors, might suggest that we are either inmates or at least visitors to such a ward ourselves.
Cleary and his cast do a solid job of portraying the characters as far as they go, but there is no longer any rooted sense of connection to a bigger picture beyond the modest dimensions of this particular frame.
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