Danger: Memory!

I Can’t Remember Anything and Clara
Arthur Miller

The plays illustrate a global evocation and a linear analysis. In an andoyne conversation (I Can’t Remember Anything), two elderly people reveal who they are. She is the widow of a bridge-builder who once worked for the Maharajah, he used to do calculations for her husband, but now has trouble with the small-town bridge. Her son is somewhere in India, they do a sort of dance to a samba record the boy has made. She laments that things have become vile. He is a Communist resigned to death, but she gives him high blood pressure with her visits, he curtails them.

There is a murder to be investigated (Clara), the victim’s father is recalcitrant and cannot be made to speak. He’s cajoled and winnowed by a police detective until the facts come out. A state of shock clouds his mind, but also a general framework of understanding. In the war he saved black soldiers from a lynch mob, he’s proud of his daughter’s social work. Her lover, a Puerto Rican ex-con, appears to have murdered her, and he can’t bring himself to remember his name. “I used to have a lot of understanding,” says the detective. “But I gave up on it.”

The father now is a bagman for mob builders, after years as a landscaper for a partner who dumped him. He was relieved to see his daughter with a man, after seeing her kiss an older woman.

The detective remembers “that day in 1945, remember?—when they first showed those pictures of the piles of bones?”, he’s alive to the realities. So is the father, remembering “Biloxi... a madhouse, clumps of people running up and down yelling to each other, people racing around corners with clubs and guns, or down on their hands and knees searching under the porches.” The girl appears to him, he expresses his pride, she is proud of him. The Medical Examiner arrives, the father names the man.

The memory screens of Miller’s early work are recalled in subliminal effects of light and crime-scene photos. The father’s memory is stirred by an old record of his, “Shenandoah”, made in his show-business days. His wife was a Rockette.

Frank Rich of the New York Times found this all a bit “ponderous” and previous.