At first glance, Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons might seem a bit dated. But sift through its many complex layers and it quickly becomes obvious that this play is timeless, with messages that ring as true today as they did nearly 60 years ago.
The play is based on a true story of a manufacturer who knowingly shipped out defective parts for tanks during World War II, an action that led to the death of many soldiers.
The play became a Broadway hit that established Miller’s career as a great American playwright. He was presented the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award, the first of many accolades presented for his plays, which include classics such as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible.
Set in August 1947, All My Sons tells the story of a man named Joe Keller. He’s an airplane engine manufacturer who places his desire to succeed above all other considerations -- even his own honor.
The play covers a short period of time, beginning on Sunday morning and ending at 2 a.m. the following day. Joe dearly loves his family, and wants to make the family prosperous. At the age of 61, he has known tragedy, for his son, Larry, has been lost in World War II while flying a mission off the coast of China. His wife, Kate, believes Larry is still alive, and because of this, she is helping Joe cover up a terrible crime he has committed. Chris, Joe’s remaining son, wants to marry Ann, Larry’s fiancee. Knowing his intention, she has arrived for a visit with the family.
SCAD’s production is being directed by Dennis Elkins, a professor in the performing arts department. “Personally, this is my favorite Arthur Miller play,” he says.
“It reminds me a lot of a Greek tragedy,” Elkins says. “Miller’s next play was Death of a Salesman, which sort of overshadowed All My Sons. They are both really, really fine pieces of theater.
“The play has an All-American feel to it,” he says. “It’s about All-American ideals that somehow have gotten warped.
“It’s American realism at its strongest,” Elkins says. “Everything about it strives for realism, although some might say it’s a straightforward melodrama by today’s standards.”
This wasn’t Miller’s first play. “It was his first hit play” Elkins says. “He’d written other things, shorter pieces. He made a name for himself with this show.”
The SCAD production features a cast of 10. “They represent four different families, all of whom live on the same block,” Elkins says. “That is part of the Americana element.
“These people are sharing back yards,” he says. “Everyone knows everyone else’s business. They are not isolated the way we’ve gotten today.
“You didn’t lock your doors then,” Elkins says. “It was one for all and all for one.”
But the times were changing, even then. “We started getting protective of our homes, our private lives,” Elkins says. “During World War II, everyone pulled together, and after, everyone started moving to the suburbs.”
Elkins says his younger cast members didn’t know what to make of All My Sons. “They thought it was a little archaic at first,” he says. “Then they saw another layer beneath it, then another. This play has layer after layer. As far as character development, this play is deep.”
One of the challenges in directing the show has been “making it appear realistic without making it look like a soap opera,” Elkins says. “Also, discovering the passion of these characters.”
Norman Rockwell’s paintings were the inspiration for the sets and costumes. “The set design and costumes are absolutely phenomenal,” Elkins says. “To see a backyard on stage at Trustees Theater is amazing.”
Graduate student Rick Cook plays Chris Keller, Joe’s remaining son. “Chris is sort of confused,” Cook says. “He’s the son of a man who has committed a terrible crime, but they’ve tried to sweep it under the rug.”
Joe’s company is manufacturing engine parts that fail, causing airplanes to crash. “Chris has returned from World War II and is upset that some people made money on the war,” Cook says. “He has internal conflicts.”
Cook says the play is “American realism at its finest.”
“It has an interesting story and a climactic ending that should provoke passion in the audience,” he says. “I think we do a very good job with it.” ç
The Savannah College of Art and Design performing arts department will present Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons Oct. 19, 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. at Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $5 for students with ID and seniors and free with a SCAD ID. Call 525-5050.