Today, we had a wonderful talkback in which we talked a bit about the connections that were made, back in 1968, between The Price and the Vietnam War. I hope that some of you may be here looking for more on that, or if you missed today’s discussion, that you may find Arthur Miller’s words on the subject even more interesting.
“But as the dying continued in Vietnam with no adequate resistance to it in the country, the theater, so it seemed to me, risked trivialization by failing to confront the bleeding, at least in a way that could reach most people. In its way, ”Hair” had done so by offering a laid-back lifestyle opposed to the aggressive military-corporate one. But one had to feel the absence — not only in theater but everywhere — of any interest in what had surely given birth to Vietnam, namely its roots in the past.
As the corpses piled up, it became cruelly impolite if not unpatriotic to suggest the obvious, that we were fighting the past; our rigid anti-Communist theology, born of another time two decades earlier, made it a sin to consider Vietnamese Reds as nationalists rather than Moscow’s and Beijing’s yapping dogs. We were fighting in a state of forgetfulness, quite as though we had not aborted a national election in Vietnam and divided the country into separate halves when it became clear that Ho Chi Minh would be the overwhelming favorite for the presidency. This was the reality on the ground, but unfortunately it had to be recalled in order to matter. And so 50,000 Americans, not to mention millions of Vietnamese, paid with their lives to support a myth and a bellicose denial.
As always, it was the young who paid. I was 53 in 1968, and if the war would cost me nothing materially, it wore away at the confidence that in the end Reason had to return lest all be lost. I was not sure of that anymore. Reason itself had become unaesthetic, something art must at any cost avoid.
‘The Price’ grew out of a need to reconfirm the power of the past, the seedbed of current reality, and the way to possibly reaffirm cause and effect in an insane world. It seemed to me that if, through the mists of denial, the bow of the ancient ship of reality could emerge, the spectacle might once again hold some beauty for an audience. If the play does not utter the word Vietnam, it speaks to a spirit of unearthing the real that seemed to have very nearly gone from our lives.”