David Edelstein's Slate piece on Arthur Miller nails a key point:
Miller never gave up that stubborn social conscience that made his dramaturgy seem so unhip.
In the 80s, when I was studying theatre, Miller had zero respect in the academy. In Stanford's department, where we scurried beneath a portrait of Bertolt Brecht that rose to Dear Leader scale, Miller was, at best, a kind of Cliffs-Notes rendition of the German master. For the postmodernists, then up and coming, Miller was so sincere as to be unworthy of parody. He was history, we thought, when we even thought of him.
When we did think of him, we made an occasional nod to Death of a Salesman. (I remember encountering just the title at age 5 or so, when it engaged me like the great and devastating poem it still is.) It's one of most enduringly popular indictments of the American dream, and fused American realism with Greek tragedy far more effectively than Eugene O'Neill's hammer-handed attempts.
And yet Salesman may not be Miller's greatest achievement. Later, when my career called on me to drive around many ordinary suburbs and small cities, I kept seeing banners announcing the local high school production of The Crucible. Unsung in the obituaries, Miller's play about the Salem witch trials -- a thinly disguised allegory for the House Un-American Activities Committee -- is much more widely read, and it's taught in the most effective way you can teach any text: Students actually do it. The very features that make it attractive to high schools make it less so to Broadway (many distinctive but simple characters, no overwhelming star "couple," plain language without difficult idiom.)
Live theatre has no future as a popular art, of course. Most people will touch this medium only once, usually in high school. It will be interesting to see how a cultural history of our times might reorganize the canon around what students have actually read, and even "lived" though amateur performance. In forming what remains of America's social conscience, The Crucible may be far more important, and Salesman far less, then the journalists of Broadway would ever suspect.