In all the media mourning over playwright Arthur Miller’s death, I’ve been waiting for someone to come out and say it: This dramatic emperor had very few clothes. But today, Terry Teachout says exactly that in the Wall Street Journal. And I respond: It’s about time.

Let’s face it: Miller wrote exactly one good play: “Death of a Salesman.” And even “Death,” with all its melodrama and pathos, has its problems, in that you need an actor of nearly superhuman talents–say, Lee J. Cobb, George C. Scott, or Dustin Hoffman–to make its central character, Willy Loman, come alive. On the printed page, Willy is no more than a cardboard Everyman pastiche of Miller’s Marxist notion of the toll that capitalism is supposed to take on those who aren’t rich. Willy Loman doesn’t fall because he’s Willy Loman but because he’s an ordinary guy who bought into the stupid “American dream” (to quote Miller’s eulogizers), and so, “attention must be paid,” as his wife, Linda, says in the play. It’s up to the actors to turn Willy from a cutout into a rounded, emotionally moving individual.

Every other piece of theater crafted by Miller was bad, bad, bad. “The Crucible”? Another melodrama with a message, this message–the McCarthy hearings were, um, witchhunts–even less thinly coated with storyline and genuine characterization than “Death.” Schoolchildren everywhere in America are still obliged by their earnest and politically correct teachers to read, see, or stage “The Crucible” at least once before they’re allowed to graduate from high school, but scholars of early American and witchcraft history–not to mention literary critics who demand more from the stage than propagandistic cartoons–consider the play a joke. Then there’s “A View From the Bridge,” where Miller decided to write a Greek tragedy but confused Oedipus with the Oedipus complex and make the plot about a guy who falls in love with his niece. Or “After the Fall,” in which Miller trashed his wife of five years, Marilyn Monroe, or “Finishing the Picture,” written just before his death, in which he trashed her some more. Poor Marilyn was emotionally frail enough without having to endure a didactic, humorless Marxist catechist of an ex-husband reaching even into her grave to give her a hard time.

So I found this piece by Teachout, the Journal’s drama critic, downright refreshing:

“He was, literally, pretentious: He pretended to have big ideas and the ability to express them with a touch of poetry, when in fact he had neither….

“I wonder how much attention would now be paid to Miller if he hadn’t married Monroe, and if the House Un-American Activities Committee hadn’t made the mistake of subpoenaing him in 1956 to testify about his Communist ties (which were extensive, though he always denied having been an actual party member), thereby bringing about his citation for contempt of Congress when he refused to ‘name names.’ The one made him a pop-culture footnote, the other a liberal icon.

“The irony is that the smartest critics of Miller’s own generation, virtually all of whom shared his left-wing views, held his plays in a different kind of contempt. Back then he took his roughest beatings from the likes of Eric Bentley, Mary McCarthy, Kenneth Tynan and Robert Warshow, who found him heavy-handed and insufferably preachy. Tynan, for instance, wrote that ‘The Crucible’ ‘suggests a sensibility blunted by the insistence of an outraged conscience: it has the over-simplifications of poster art.’ Bull’s-eye.”

Teachout wonders how long Miller’s literary reputation will survive his death. If I know my “Crucible”-crazy U.S. education establishment, a very long time.