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Canceled Flight

In Arthur Miller's "Mr. Peters' Connections," a retired pilot journeys to nowhere.

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årthur Miller’s latest, Mr. Peters’ Connections, is a play about nothing. Throughout, you wonder where you are, who these people are, whether they are people, and, above all, why you are there. The play self-destructs before your eyes, which happily enables you to combine watching with forgetting. To go about remembering it would be a true disaster.

The protagonist, Harry Peters, a retired Pan Am pilot, comes into what was (and perhaps still is) a nightclub and, before that, a bank. He is guided by someone known only as Calvin, a manager or renting agent. In the back sits -- eating, imbibing, or gazing into a hand mirror -- a black bag lady in a nurse’s hat, Adele, whose caustic or autobiographical remarks nobody hears or heeds. The next appearance, or apparition, is that of Cathy Mae, in a filmy dress and mute. Later, she talks a bit, but more often she is on her back, seemingly dead. Harry is waiting for his wife as he discourses on a variety of things, chiefly his quadruple-A shoes, just purchased nearby, and the state of the world, but also on what the “subject” (presumably of the play) might be, which also eludes us.

Presently, Larry, a thuggish clerk from the nearby shoe store, rushes in, searching for Cathy Mae, who turns out to be his wife (and at one time, Harry’s). He finds her in the offstage powder room, which all the female characters rhapsodize about in ever fancier ways, though it leaves the males who inspect it cold. Next we get a young quasi couple: Leonard, a composer of sorts, and Rose, his pregnant -- though not necessarily by him -- girlfriend. Eventually, Harry’s decorator wife, Charlotte, shows up, though Harry has temporarily forgotten her and his own names. She gushes about the place, adores the powder room, and keeps saying “Gimme a break!” Calvin returns and is hailed by Harry as his deceased brother, but remains unconvinced. A player piano periodically sounds off with more or less apposite pop tunes. And so on to the aptly inconclusive ending, with Harry for the umpteenth time wondering what the subject is.

One can draw parallels between the author and Harry and thus identify some other real-life characters, but to little profit. More to the point, this is Miller’s shot at an in-limbo play à la Camino Real, with absurdist-surreal touches, to prove how with-it an old guy can be. But for this, the dialogue would have to be 200 percent more interesting. And if we are to worry about whether the characters are alive or dead or dreaming, they must first become something more than hand-me-down wraiths.

The good Garry Hynes directed, but was understandably stumped. As Harry, Peter Falk is an older Columbo, but broader in accent and mannerisms. If you find his performance old hat (or old raincoat), you can occupy yourself with trying to guess which of his eyes is his famous glass one. Jeff Weiss, almost miraculously, manages to infuse life into Calvin; Tari Signor, as Rose, who finds a father figure in Harry, has a wispy appeal; Anne Jackson, in the wretched role of Charlotte, at least dazzles with her superb elocution. The rest sink in the slowest quicksand ever. The one possible question is: What does that prodigious powder room with “those toilet seats of solid African mahogany whence the imprint of woman’s flesh . . . can never be entirely washed away” stand for? I myself, I’m afraid, must take a powder on that one.


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