On Saturday evening, two friends and I attended Carson High School’s production of Arthur Miller’s play, “All My Sons.” which won both the Tony and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award in 1947.
It was Miller’s first success on Broadway and it’s representative of Miller’s view of drama as tragedy in the classic Greek mode. The dramatic “tragic” structure relies on having an optimistic view of the world in which all is set right by the main character who eventually sees and atones for whatever mistake he has made. Miller himself observed that today’s dramas (he died in 2005 at age 89) don’t really fit the classic tragic mode any more because we tend to perceive the world as “fallen,” or dystopic, and therefore our take on the tragic is to perceive it as absurd.
Keeping the above context in mind, Dana Fleming’s choice of this play is perfect for a high school production because it takes us back to a more optimistic time in America. It gives the students and actors a way to enter their grandparents’ lives, to understand better what America has been and why we do not seem to have as strong a national moral conscience as we once did.
The play opens somewhere in the heart of America, in the backyard of the Kellers’ house. The set, spare, but symbolically rich, features a back porch, a patio couch, a glorious tree swing, and patio table and chairs. The Depression and World War II are behind us and three of the four families featured in the play have at least a toehold, if not more, on the American Dream. Unseen, but “live,” someone plays a haunting, familiar melody of the time on a trumpet. The program gives us three excellent questions to ponder while watching the performance; it summarizes the situation; and it gives us thumbnail sketches of each character and relationship to the others so it’s easy to track the ins and outs of the plot which focuses on secrets and betrayals.
This is a play in which six characters experience wrenching, deep emotions. The actors (female and male) who inhabit these roles have obviously internalized them and the audience’s reaction — tense, silent, as if holding our breaths — gripped the space in which we sat.
Thematically, the play explores one of Arthur Miller’s preoccupations: What is each man’s greatest responsibility — to himself only, or to the larger world? This is not always an either/or question. There are factors, such as financial well being, success, and power that complicate the picture — especially in American culture.
I encourage you to see the play and talk about it with your family. Performances will be held at 7 p.m. today and Friday and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Community Center. General admission is $10.
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