'Fellow Travelers' review: A compelling tale of love, friendship and Marilyn Monroe
WHAT "Fellow Travelers"
WHERE Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor, through June 17
INFO From $40; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org
BOTTOM LINE Intriguing but uneven look at some theatrical legends.
"I don't think you could write a shopping list, Art, that wouldn't make me feel like sitting shiva for a week."
The "Art" being gently chastised by famed director Elia Kazan is no less than the renowned Arthur Miller, and their story is the heart of Jack Canfora's intriguing if uneven "Fellow Travelers," now getting its world premiere at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
The Elwood-raised playwright has meticulously researched this saga, bringing to the stage an inordinately complicated relationship (devoted friends when we first meet them in 1951, later bitter enemies) of these legendary figures — and the even more famous woman, as in Marilyn Monroe, they both romanced (though only Miller married her). Part love triangle, part documentary, the play spans more than 12 years, centering mostly on McCarthy-era politics as both men are, at different times, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. One names names, one doesn't, and their justifications for their actions, compelling on both sides, make for a conflict that could never be truly resolved.
Director Michael Wilson's fine cast is led by Wayne Alan Wilcox, who portrays Miller with a deep intensity — fervent and uncompromising — especially in his testimony before the committee. Vince Nappo's Kazan is a bit of a gadabout, a man who would smooth things over if he could only figure out how. As Monroe, Rachel Spencer Hewitt holds back on the bombshell we know so well, instead showing us a troubled woman coming to terms with her public perception. Fans of "Mozart in the Jungle" will get a kick out of seeing Mark Blum, the series' beleaguered union leader, as Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn.
While dialogue drags at times, the play offers illuminating glimpses of the creative genius of Miller and Kazan. And there's plenty of interesting film and theater lore, though the frequent time jumps make it hard to follow, as the action is compressed to cover a vast amount of material. It will be easier for those with at least a passing knowledge of Kazan-directed movies "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire," or Miller plays "The Crucible" and, especially, "After the Fall."
Canfora has said that while he's taken literary license with who did what, everything in the play actually happened, though it's hard to believe Monroe ended up in Kazan's bed mere hours after she got engaged to Joe DiMaggio. Still, for fans of these bigger-than-life characters, "Fellow Travelers" offers fascinating insight into the evolution of some of their most famous works.