by Marilyn Lester
On October 17, 1915 one of America’s greatest playwrights was born in New York City. Arthur Miller was followed seven years later by baby sister, Joan, who went on to become an esteemed and prolific actor in stage, film and television. In celebration of Arthur Miller’s centenary, and of Miss Copeland, concert producer and composer Patricia Leonard presented a special event on February 1st: a private reading by Joan Copeland of brother Arthur’s short story, “The Performance.”
Arthur Miller wrote many short stories in addition to plays; a posthumous collection of them was published in 2008, under the collective title of Presence: Stories. “The Performance” is among the collection. But before Miller died in 2005 he lived in hospice care with his sister for some months and literally left behind some of his work, including a manuscript of “The Performance.” The manuscript was recently rediscovered by Miss Copeland, and when Leonard learned of it, conceived the reading as a perfect tribute to both playwright and actress.
Miller himself declared that short stories were “like bungalows in the architectural world.” “The Performance” is more like a mansion. In telling the singular story of Harold May, a Jewish tap dancer in prewar Europe, circa 1936, Miller paints a vivid picture of a command performance before Adolf Hitler himself. Miss Copeland read with depth and emotion, evocatively bringing the strange and surreal tale to life.
In the Q and A that followed the reading, Miss Copeland shared stories about her brother, who she clearly adored. “He was a genius,” she declared. That he was. In the intimacy of friends gathered to fete the actress, Copeland was delightfully charming, as well as forthright, as in relating the terrible period in her own life when she was found “guilty by association” and blacklisted from performing for many years. Fortunately, there were many more happy times to relate, all of which were eagerly received by an adoring audience gathered at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Creative Center to honor both bright stars of the Miller family.
*Photos: Maryann Lopinto