All My Sons

As part of the Jacksonville University homecoming celebration, the drama department opened a two-week run of Arthur Miller’s 1947 Tony Award-winning All My Sons. Final performances are on October 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. and October 25 at 2:00 pm. The production is on stage at the Swisher Theatre on the JU campus in the Arlington area.
This moving theatre classic traces the downfall of two Midwestern families four years after the end of World War II. The fathers, Joe Keller and Steve Deever, were business partners and thrived during the war, manufacturing parts for military planes. When the war effort intensified and their quotas were increased, they began shipping cracked cylinders, thus endangering the lives of American pilots. Keller is exonerated for the crime after an appeal. While only Deever is sent to prison, both families have to face the consequences.
As the play opens, we learn that Keller’s oldest son Larry was a pilot during the war who remains missing. Everyone except his mother Kate considers him dead. Keller’s surviving son Chris, also a pilot during the war, has joined the family business. Chris is keen on marrying Ann Deever, the fiancee of his missing brother, and the daughter of the incarcerated former business partner. Both Kate and Ann’s brother, George, are opposed to the marriage.
While this may sound complicated, the script is so well written it sorts itself out and builds to a strong emotional climax as the shadow of the crime still hangs over those involved. All the major characters give meaning to Miller’s dramatic script through powerful performances.
Director Deborah Jordon’s cast includes students from freshmen to seniors, with varied theatre experience. College students are almost always doing roles of people years older, unless they are doing something like Grease. As a result they often have to stretch to act out life experiences very unlike their own. This cast has excellently captured the complex characters in All My Sons, and as the play went on, they truly were living the lives of Miller’s script
Some of the strongest scenes are between Matthew Watson as Joe Keller and Samuel Smid, playing Chris his son, as they attempt to sort out guilt and blame while trying to come to terms with the past. Lesley Nadwodnik as Kate appears to be out of touch of reality, thinking that her Air Force pilot son Larry is still alive even through four years have passed since he was last seen. Kate opposes Chris courting the charming and attractive Ann (portrayed with just the right temperament by Meredith Brown) because she views their marriage as a confirmation of Larry’s death.
Nick Boucher, as George, is making his debut at JU with this role and is perfectly cast as the successful New York lawyer who has come back home to pursue the truth of his father Steve’s responsibility for the defective aircraft parts. His confrontation scene with the family is yet another of the very moving scenes in this drama
Living next door is the Bayliss family. Jim Bayliss (Brian Trumble) is a small town doctor, who would rather be doing medical research but is hounded by his strong-willed wife, Sue (Kristen Conley) who likes money. Sue and Ann also have an excellent scene together concerning the guilt or innocence of Joe.
Rounding out the cast are neighbors Lydia and Frank Lubey played by Michele McGovern and Jacob Schuman. Miller likes to tie his characters to each other and Lydia just happened to be the high school girlfriend of George Deever, before he went off to war. Frank’s hobby is casting horoscopes and he convinces Kate that the date her son disappeared was a “favorable “day so it was almost impossible for anything bad to have happened to him, thus supporting her dysfunctional denial. You may notice that we have not revealed the very dramatic ending just in case you have never seen the play or the 1948 movie with Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster.
The costumes were designed by Allison Steadman, Assistant Professor of Costume Design at JU. The ladies initially wore filmy dresses, with bright colors, appropriate to the period. Kate’s costume in Act I in particularly interesting, with a petalled raspberry skirt and a turquoise apron. Ann wears a white dress with bright flowers, and says that it cost three weeks of salary (which reflects post-War consumer patterns). Also of interest are the coiffures, which include pompadours. Costumes became more chromatic as the play progressed, to reflect the emphasis on character issues.
The setting is the backyard of the Keller family in Middle America in1947. The set consisted of a two- story house on the right, with three trees, a picket fence and an outdoor metal bench on the left. As designed and executed by Ben Wilson and Matt Ward (who also designed the lighting), it is hyper-realistic and almost surrealistic in appearance. The house has transparent walls so we can see the limited action that takes place there. The leaves of the trees are scrim-like fabric that appears to be floating in the sky.
All My Sons is timely because it confronts issues of ethics and responsibility which, if you read today’s headlines, occupies our society as much now as it did in the 1940s. Greed in the time of war is still around today. This Drama Critics Circle Award winner was Arthur Miller’s first success. He went on to write the classics Death of Salesmen, A View from the Bridge and The Crucible. Over the years, Miller had fifteen shows that reached Broadway.
If you have not seen a Jacksonville University theatre production, then by all means, take the opportunity to see All My Sons.Ticket prices are reasonable at $12.00 for adults, $ 7.00 for seniors, military and students. Swisher Theatre is a wonderful space, with good sightlines and acoustics. There is plenty of free parking available.
Deborah Jordan is Professor of Theatre and Head of the Acting Performance Program at Jacksonville University and has directed over 50 plays locally and regionally. She has an excellent insight into the intent and purpose of Miller’s All My Sons and is able to impart this knowledge to the students who performed this play so well.