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Meeting Arthur Miller

There perhaps is no better guide than Simon McBurney, the actor-director, to steer the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons.

McBurney, who stars on the big screen opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in Body of Lies, is also the artistic director of Complicite, a fiercely anti-naturalist troupe based in London. And it was Miller’s daughter Rebecca, says McBurney, who asked him to direct All My Sons. The bruising family drama about deceit and denial won Tony Awards for both Miller and the director, Elia Kazan, in 1947.

McBurney’s meeting with Arthur Miller happened at a dinner in 2001 after Miller saw Complicite’s critically lauded Mnemonic, an otherworldly study of memory, biophysics and a frozen man.

“When I met Miller, it was a kind of astonishment that I could meet someone who was so deeply embedded in the psyche of my artistic development.... One of the things he liked about playwriting as to any other kind of writing is that a playwright is a w-r-i-g-h-t, not a w-r-i-t-e; in other words, that a playwright is more of a craftsman than an artiste of the big novel,” says McBurney.

“When I was an adolescent in England, at school we had to read The Death of a Salesman. I remember feeling incredibly moved by the portrayal of these people and the idea with which Miller broached the whole subject of failure or failed systems,” he adds.

The new, stripped-down revival of All of My Sons — the actors enter from and exit into wings that are visible to the audience — stars John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson and, in her Broadway debut, Katie Holmes.

“Because of the way our world is obsessed with the idea of celebrity, there was a lot of chat about the idea of Katie Holmes being in a play. Well, she is fantastic. Ann is her role. It combines this extraordinary fresh beauty with another, much darker quality that I always felt was there, and which comes out by the end of the play, where she looks like a kind of avenging angel. This has been very exciting for me because I’ve brought together many different people,” says McBurney.

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