Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 1:15 pm | A Few Clouds 72º

 
 
 
 

Gerald Carpenter: Miller’s ‘All My Sons’ plays live in Oxnard

Now through Nov. 13, the Elite Theater Company of Oxnard is offering its new production of Arthur Miller's early masterpiece, All My Sons (1947), directed by Brian Robert Harris and produced by Vivien Latham.

Sets are by John Eslick and Will Shupe, lighting by Kieran Culliton, and costumes by Sheryl Jo Bedal. The show stars Jim Seerden, Theresa Secor, Allen Gardner, Kelly Whitaker, Scott Blanchard, Jolyn Johnson, Mike Gerbi, Eric Mello, Sarah Boughton and Wesley Umali.

For those unfamiliar with the play, or who have seen it so long ago that the details are hazy, here is the Elite's summary of the action:

"During [World War II] Joe Keller and Steve Deever ran a machine shop which made airplane parts. Deever was sent to prison because the firm turned out defective parts, causing the deaths of many men. Keller went free and made a lot of money.

"The twin shadows of this catastrophe and the fact that the young Keller son was reported missing during the war dominate the action. The love affair of Chris Keller and Ann Deever, the bitterness of George Deever returned from the war to find his father in prison and his father's partner free, are all set in a structure of almost unbearable power.

"The climax showing the reaction of a son to his guilty father is fitting conclusion to a play electrifying in its intensity."

Miller wrote his first full-length play in 1936, when he was a sophomore at the University of Michigan. He called it No Villain, and though the play was good enough in its original form to win Miller the $250 Avery Hopwood Award, he rewrote it three times.

He renamed it each time, first as They Too Arise (1937), then as Honors at Dawn (1938), and finally as The Grass Still Grows (1938).

Neither the rewrites nor the name changes sufficed to put the play on the map. It received its world premiere, in fact, in December of last year, in England, as part of a celebration of Miller's 100th birthday.

Like many of his literary contemporaries, Miller spent most of the 1930s on the far left of the political spectrum, and while socialism has many allurements for those with a penchant for political organization, it has nothing of value to say about art, especially the dramatic art.

Characters who are mere flotsam on the surface of vast historical waves do not hold our attention very long. The place for studying wave action is the lab, or the seashore, not the theater.

Miller's early attempts are an uneasy combination of social theory and autobiography. His next major play, which had more or less the same mix, was The Man Who Had All the Luck (1940), and it actually made it to Broadway—where it lasted four whole days.

By now, Miller very much wanted to be a successful playwright, but he decided that if his next play went nowhere he would throw in the towel. His next play was All My Sons, which was directed by Elia Kazan, produced by Elia Kazan and Harold Clurman, and starred Ed Begley, Beth Miller, Arthur Kennedy and Karl Malden.

It ran for 328 performances, won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award (over Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh), and was awarded two Tonys: Best Author for Miller and Best Direction of a Play for Kazan.

All My Sons is one of the plays that caught the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee HUAC, because it seemed so negative, so critical of American society.

It had its origin in a newspaper story, which the mother of his first wife brought to Miller's attention, about an Ohio aircraft manufacturer who colluded with with the Army Air Force inspectors to sell defective machines and split the profits.

(If Miller had left the corrupt inspectors in the play, he would have had an even more powerful j'accuse to level against the "system," and HUAC would have hauled him in to testify a lot sooner.)

Still, in spirit and form, it is a far cry from the Marxist critique of its predecessors. It is more like a Christian morality play, all about individual actions and individual responsibilities. It is also a very moving family drama, and a touching romance.

Except for A View from the Bridge (1955), it is my favorite Miller play, and it has my favorite line from any of his plays. Chris Keller is reading the book reviews in the Sunday newspaper. Another character asks him why he reads the reviews when he never reads the books. Chris replies: "I like to keep abreast of my ignorance."

All My Sons plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, in the Elite's Main Stage, 2731 S Victoria Ave, Oxnard.

Tickets for all performances are $18 adults, $15 students and seniors, and they can be purchased at the theater box office, by phone at 483.5118, or on line at: http://www.elitetheatre.org/

— Gerald Carpenter is a Noozhawk Contributing Writer.

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