Here is a list of Arthur Miller’s five best plays. Arthur Miller is one of the greatest American playwrights of all time. If you are interested in reading plays or being an actor, Arthur Miller is a must read. And a great starting point. His plays are constantly put on around the world and they feature an abundance of great scenes and monologues which are great for scene work and for auditioning. Arthur Miller has an incredible command of language and captures the reality of characters adroitly. We have chosen the plays we feel are his best, based on story, popularity, language and what plays are simply awesome, so I hope you enjoy.
Updated 20th December, 2022.
Miller was born to wealthy parents in New York City in 1915. While his early years were lived in immense privilege, his family lost their fortune during the Wall Street Crash of 1929, forcing Miller to work odd jobs to support himself through high school and college. Before settling on playwrighting, Miller worked as a copywriter, college professor and a psychiatric aide.
His career as a playwright did not begin until he was nearly thirty; his first produced play was The Man Who Had All the Luck in 1944—which was both award-winning and terribly reviewed. His first success on Broadway came in 1947 with All My Sons. It would typify the kind of writing and themes Miller would become known for putting on stage: explorations of politics, America, capitalism and the modern family. In 1949, Miller premiered Death of Salesman, which propelled him to superstardom and garnered a Tony, A New York Drama Circle Critic’s Award and a Pulitzer Prize.
During the 1950s and 60s, Miller became a prominent public figure, not only as the writer of classic plays like A View from the Bridge and films like The Misfits, but for his public marriage with (and divorce from) Marylin Monroe, and his outspoken political views. Horrified by Senator McCarthy’s witch hunts of Communists via the House Un-American Activities Committe (HUAC), Miller researched, wrote and premiered The Crucible in 1953. Three years later, he was brought before the very same Committee and convicted of contempt of Congress. His sentence was overturned in 1958.
While he never again reached the critical and commercial success of this period in his life, Arthur Miller remained an active writer and theatre-maker up until his death in 2005, at the age of 89. Miller left behind a legacy as one of the United States’ most influential playwrights, with a reputation comparable to practitioners like Bertholt Brecht or William Shakespeare.
Why You Should Read Arthur Miller
Let’s put it this way: don’t read Arthur Miller simply because he’s one of the best playwrights of all time (he ranks a respectable 4th on our StageMilk list.) You should read Arthur Miller because few playwrights speak to the Big Ideas And Themes in quite so natural a way.
The Crucible, for example, is one of the finest political plays ever put to paper. And yet, if you had no understanding of the HUAC horrors of 1950s America, it would still be a brilliant and gripping piece of drama. You could have no idea of the death of the American Dream and still be caught up in the drama of All My Sons, or Death of a Salesman, or the tragedy of the Carbone family in A View from the Bridge.
As an actor, it is your job to know these characters and plays. If you aren’t playing them (especially Biff and his “pen monologue” in Every Drama School Audition Ever) then you’ll be working with directors who know and reference them. Or with material written by writers who have taken note of Miller’s style. He’s a playwright it’s almost fashionable to dismiss as part of the old white dude canon … but his words resonate with audiences for a reason. Find this. Know this. Use it to your advantage.
Performing an Arthur Miller Play
So you’ve been cast as Willy Loman! Or Abigail Williams! Now what?
The trick to performing Miller is to make the drama of the play feel natural. That might sound obvious, but it can be difficult when the themes surrounding the (often modest) characters are so lofty—the plots so well-known after being on the school reading list since forever ago.
Pare it back. Work to your objectives, plot actions to get there and get a good grip on your given circumstances. These are period pieces to us, now, for sure … they weren’t when they were written. They were sharp, political dramas that spoke to the here and now. And they are still that way today.
Finally, do some research. Know what Miller was writing about. If he’s talking about union corruption, read up on that. If he’s discussing Salem, read on that as well. If you realise (perhaps by reading this very article) that he was actually talking about HUAC and Senator McCarthy … you get the picture. Follow the web, keep hoovering up that knowledge. Knowing this as a human being will help you get to the why of your character’s views and actions. This will give you the edge when you arrive in the rehearsal room.
Best Arthur Miller Plays
#1 Death of a Salesman (1949)
Miller’s most revered, and arguably his best. Death centres around the life and eventual demise of travelling salesman Willy Loman, as he chases the American Dream and finds it forever out of his grip. Orbiting the central character are Loman’s family members including his two sons Happy and Biff and his wife Linda. In some ways, it’s a classic tragedy—presenting a character whose fate is sealed no matter what they try to do—and yet the Loman family are each faced with choices to be made to break the cycle that destroys their patriarch. Linda’s final speech to Willy’s grave, in which she tells him they finally paid off the house and are therefore “free”, gives sadness and hope all at once that such lives are never lived in vain.
#2 The Crucible (1953)
Based on the Salem Witch trials of 1692, Miller used the themes of mass hysteria and personal honour to mirror that of the persecution of supposed Communists in the film, television and theatre industries of Cold War America. Interestingly, Miller himself took the stand at HUAC three years after the play premiered; he followed in the footsteps of his protagonist John Proctor and chose an honourable conviction rather than save himself. While The Crucible is often studied and performed in high school English classes, it should never be dismissed as a less complex or dramatic piece. It is a modern theatrical classic and should be read by all.
#3 A View from the Bridge (1955)
View is not as widely regarded as the first two entries on this list, and yet it is, in some ways, the more accessible. It plays out in two simple acts, documenting the life of the Carbone family: longshoreman Eddie, his wife Beatrice and Catherine—Beatrice’s niece who has been raised by the childless couple. Tensions arrive in the form of Beatrice’s cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, have arrived to stay as illegal immigrants. Their clashing with Eddie (especially as Rodolpho and Catherine begin a relationship) spills into confrontations around race, family and honour. It’s tight, beautiful drama with a tragic twist that speaks perfectly to Miller’s preoccupation with HUAC … arguably with more deftness than The Crucible.
#4 All My Sons (1947)
All My Sons was the first great success written by Arthur Miller; in its examination of family, political and capitalistic themes it serves as a blueprint for what Miller would continue to explore on stage for decades to come. Of particular interest is its theme of the father figure becoming fallible in the eyes of his children—something seen again in Death of a Salesman. Interestingly, the central plot conceit of an aircraft manufacturer knowingly supplying faulty parts during WWII, was a true story pointed out by Miller’s mother-in-law.
#5 After The Fall (1964)
In the canon of Miller’s works—especially those in the earlier, revered portion of his career—After The Fall sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s surreal, absurd and non-linear, with moments of symbolism contrasting with the more grounded nature of his previous work. He seldom spoke about his relationship with Marylin Monroe; in this play, he seems to put her front and centre in a thinly-veiled and very unflattering potrayal that cost him friends and audiences alike. And yet, it’s worth your time for a glimpse into the mind of Miller, who seems to exorcise all of his demons onto the page/stage. It’s an uncomfortably personal, autobiographical piece; it’s something you don’t expect from many artists, let alone one better known for tackling lofty, socio-political themes.