Miller, Monroe & Kazan at Bay Street Theater

“How do you reconcile your friendships and relationships with your belief system? When someone you love doesn’t adhere to the same code, what do you do?”

Asking those questions is playwright Jack Canfora, who explores themes of camaraderie and betrayal in his drama Fellow Travelers, world premiering at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater May 29. The plot follows a love triangle of sorts, as two close pals both obsess over the same complicated woman. In this case, though, the buddies are playwright Arthur Miller and director Elia Kazan, who originally staged Miller’s landmark Death of a Salesman but also went on to name names during the McCarthy era. The woman? Miller’s wife Marilyn Monroe, with whom Kazan—as shown in confessional letters published posthumously in 2014—had an affair. “Miller, Monroe and Kazan had an intense and enmeshed relationship,” Canfora explained. “And it always fascinated me that nobody wrote a story about it.”

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Canfora penned his story seven years ago, with Broadway’s powerful Shubert Organization holding the option to produce it. “My main producer Leonard Soloway gave it to them a while ago, but it can take a long time for plays to get momentum behind them. They did a table reading this past summer, which led to the premiere.”

Michael Wilson, former artistic director of Hartford Stage and director of 2013’s The Trip to Bountiful Broadway revival with Cicely Tyson, helms the play, which features “fictionalized” dialogue to go with actual events. “What happens in the play really happened,” Canfora avowed. “There are no ninja attacks or car chases! It’s just that some things had to be compressed. For example, Mark Blum plays Hollywood film producer Harry Cohn. The real Harry Cohn didn’t do all the things this character does—though he did a lot of them—but all the things he does in the play were done by somebody.”

Asked if Arthur Miller was a particular influence on his own playwriting, Canfora claimed, “I wouldn’t compare myself to him in terms of quality, and I don’t see myself writing like him stylistically, but he’s a tremendous influence.” Canfora’s style perhaps owes more to the likes of Stoppard, Kushner, Albee and…Elvis Costello. “My plays tend to be very oriented in language. Characters have fairly witty responses to things, which helps because I often write dramas that are heavy thematically but have light moments and comedy in between.”

As for what he hoped to achieve by writing about the legends in Fellow Travelers, Canfora replied, “These are iconic figures sealed into our collective consciousness, but in the process they’ve become ‘typed.’ Treating them three-dimensionally is sometimes lost when that happens. But the same tropes that were politically and socially at play then are still valid now. Miller was a universal writer but also an extremely American one. He’s writing about what it means to be a thinking, feeling person in our culture. That doesn’t get old.”