New York — Danger: Memory! Two one-act plays by Arthur Miller. Directed by Gregory Mosher. ``Danger: Memory!'' at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, is an evening of rituals and mystery. The rituals are small and the mystery is psychological rather than conventionally plotted.
In his first new stage work since ``Up From Paradise'' (1982), Arthur Miller dramatizes the role of memory in two vastly differing sets of circumstances with equally contrasting moods. Whether smooth or rugged, the path down memory lane achieves its destination within the limits the playwright has set himself.
Memories are clear as well as clouded in ``I Can't Remember Anything,'' the first of the two playlets. The duologue begins with the entrance of Leonora (Geraldine Fitzgerald) into the country kitchen occupied by Leo (Mason Adams). Widowed Leonora and her late husband have been longtime friends of Leo's. Nowadays, Leonora joins Leo of an evening to share a meal, drink his liquor, and compare notes on the state of the world and their own mortality.
Leo is an unreconstructed radical, a theoretical communist who keeps up with the world through the capitalist press. Though impatient with his failing powers, he is helping a friend with the mathematical calculations for a local bridge construction project. Leonora is a disillusioned idealist who recoils from a world lost in ``greed, mendacity, and narrow-minded ignorance.'' As they companionably bicker and reminisce and even briefly samba, Miller reveals the depth and constancy of the old friends' interdependence and mutual support. In the mellow performances of Miss Fitzgerald and Mr. Mason, lapses of memory find their compensation in constancy of concern and affection.
The genially comic tone of ``I Can't Remember Anything'' contrasts sharply with the dark probings of ``Clara.'' In the second half of the twin bill, Miller deals with the shattering aftermath of a gruesome murder. As the officer assigned to the case, shaven-headed Detective Lieutenant Fine (James Tolkan) employs all the skills of a veteran interrogator to extract from Albert Kroll (Kenneth McMillan), the victim's elderly father, the clues needed to advance the police investigation.
It develops that Clara, an idealistic young woman who worked with ex-prisoners, had been dating a man who had served time for killing a girlfriend. Kroll's state of shock combines with his deep-seated, unacknowledged sense of guilt that he had fostered in Clara the very openness that made her vulnerable. In a highly charged flashback, Kroll recalls telling a young Clara of the World War II incident in which he rescued several of his black troops from a mob of Biloxi (Mississippi) whites.
The emotional outburst leads Fine to his first clue, but not before the hard-bitten cop has delivered his own assessment of a society dominated by ``greed and race.'' In this case, the dangers of memory are inextricably linked to the unpredictability of human behavior. Mr. Tolkan's dogged Detective Fine ultimately forces from Mr. McMillan's evasive Kroll the essential information needed to identify Clara's killer. Throughout Kroll's rambling digressions, the two actors retain the tautness essential to the drama and its undercurrents.
``Danger: Memory!'' has been well served in the production directed by Gregory Mosher. The playing responds to the sharpness of the writing, but the nature of these rememberings limits spectator satisfactions. Michael Meritt's sets range from simple (for the first play) to stark (for the second), with lighting by Kevin Rigdon and costumes by Nan Cibula.
The Miller one-acters are scheduled to run through Feb. 15.