A moving portrait of a family caught in a collision of ethics, loyalty and love.
Arthur Miller's powerful drama about social responsibility and personal trust is a moving portrait of an American family smashed apart in a collision of ethics, loyalties, and love.
All My Sons is generously sponsored anonymously in honor of Director Emerita, Maren B. Thomas --This family drama will most likely be appropriate for children 12 and older due to its emotional intensity.--
ABOUT THE PLAY After the acclaim of Miller’s first novel, Focus, he returned to the Broadway scene in search of a commercial and critical success. Before All My Sons (1947), Miller had never spent more than 3 months on a dramatic writing project. This work took him over 2½ years. He said that his models for this play were the dramas of 19th century playwright Henrick Ibsen; for Miller, it was in Ibsen’s plays where the past becomes a present fact. In a story where connection between past and present is so sharp, there will be consequences and a need to take responsibility for choices and actions. As Kate Keller observes in the play, “Everything that happened seems to be coming back.”
The genesis for All My Sons lies in information provided by Miller’s mother-in-law. She pointed out an article in an Ohio newspaper which discussed a young woman who decided to inform on her father when she discovered that he had supplied faulty parts to the military. Miller changed the young woman to a young man because “I didn’t know about girls then.” So under the determined author’s pen, the moral and tragic consequences of the story became the action of weighing responsibility sacrificed for profit, the choice of family security over social good.
While the play owes a good deal to both Miller’s political agendas and his experience of life in WWII America (both good and bad), it also reflects the ‘30s where major authors like Odets and Hemingway argued for social responsibility that lies beyond mere family connections. In fact, both Miller and Hemingway cite John Donne’s famous observation – “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
The play also owes something to Ibsen’s classic, A Wild Duck, where two partners are in business together and where one is forced to take legal and moral responsibility for the actions of both. And in the same play, the protagonist drives to his revelation of all the “crimes” with an idealism that borders on cruelty and self-aggrandizement. This tone and characterization also underlies much of the plot in All My Sons. In Miller’s case (as he explained), “the concept behind the play was that Joe Keller was both responsible for and a part of a great web of meaning, of being. He had torn that web; he had ripped his part of the structure that supports life and society… And a person who violates it in the way he did has done more than kill a few men. He has killed the possibility of a society having any future, any life. He has destroyed the life-force in that society.” While Miller had expected the play to be produced during the war (and thereby produce a “scandal” when it was performed), the drama does get at the fears and foolish actions triggered by the sense of anxiety that became prevalent in post-war America.
As Life magazine observed, “the modern individual is out of touch with the inner realities of life and is somehow lost. He suffers from philosophical and spiritual confusions.” Many Americans coped with this malaise by extreme materialism and heightened consumerism. Others, fearing a return to the collapse of the Depression, repressed alternative ideologies and stockpiled resources. In retrospect, it is no surprise that the HUAC and McCarthyism were just on the horizon. Miller understood this all too well and as theatre critic Lyn Gardner observed (after Miller’s death in 2005), “he was the great conscience of the American nation – and a damn good playwright in every sense.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Born to a Polish immigrant family in 1915 Harlem, Arthur Miller’s youth was spent living the American Dream. His father, who came to the US at age eight, had built a thriving women’s garment business. Until the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the family lived in significant wealth and prestige; but with the economic downturn, they were forced to relocate to Brooklyn. The Depression impacted Miller significantly and is apparent in much of his life’s work; he believed that this era in America’s history was second only to the Civil War in terms of its impact on the daily lives of all Americans. During the Depression, Miller did manual labor to pay for his university tuition; he worked as a delivery man and in an auto parts warehouse. At the University of Michigan, Miller planned to study journalism, but became active in politics – he was concerned with the Civil War in Spain (where several of his friends fought and died) and with the labor unrest at home. He also began to write for the theatre, winning prizes, including the Hopwood Award, for plays with radical political themes. He graduated in 1938 with a degree in English. He went on to write for radio and for film as part of the Federal Theater project in New York City; his script on army life was produced as The Story of GI Joe.
After trying to enlist and being denied on medical grounds, Miller worked as a fitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And, with the closure of the Federal Theater Project, Miller travelled to North Carolina and married Mary Grace Slattery. Their daughter, Jane, was born in 1944. His first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, closed after only 6 performances, but received the Theater Guild National Award. Distressed by the commercial failure of his drama, Miller turned to the novel, completing Focus (a work dealing with anti-Semitism in America) in 1945. It was a success. With his literary confidence bolstered, Miller returned to dramatic writing in 1947 with All My Sons. The play won the Tony Award for Best Author and Best Direction of a Play, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, and the Donaldson Award.
Following the birth of his son, Robert, Miller produced Death of Salesman in 1949. In addition to winning every major theatrical award, it also received the Pulitzer Prize. And this play remains one of the greatest works of 20th century drama. His acclaimed play on American politics of the 17th and 20th centuries, The Crucible, won major awards including a Tony in 1953, while his one act play, A View from the Bridge, premiered in 1955. In 1956, he and Slattery divorced and Miller married Marilyn Monroe. Miller soon found himself “a foul” of the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee led by Joe McCarthy) and was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to name names. His conviction was overturned by the US Court of Appeals the following year.
Monroe and Miller divorced in 1961 and Miller remarried in 1962. With his third wife Inge Morath, he had a daughter, Rebecca and a son, Daniel. Miller continued to write throughout his life, producing later plays such as After the Fall (1964), The Price (1968) The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991), and Broken Glass (1994) and a highly respected autobiography, Timebends. He received the Mellon Bank Award for lifetime achievement in 1991, and the William Inge festival Award for distinguished achievement in American Theater (1995). In 1998, Miller was named as the Distinguished Inaugural Senior Fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. He also received the Jerusalem prize in 2003 and 2005. Revivals of his works continued to win Tonys throughout his career. He died of heart failure at the age of 89.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION For guest director, James Edmondson, this opportunity to explore this play is both a celebration of art and honesty, and a delighted return to a company which offers a friendly and supportive working environment, and a place to do honest, good work. And Edmondson is especially excited to work with each of his design team on the piece. He looks forward to “doing the play;” and doing it within this more intimate venue, where it is possible to truly focus on the honesty and clarity and impact of the actors in this story.
Honesty, for Edmondson, is the best description of All My Sons. In a lifetime of great writing from Miller, this play offers a spare, clear force and an honesty that Edmondson finds powerful. And while this is an earlier work from the noted playwright, it is a play in which everyone has a secret, one that is not exposed until the final moments. So on the one hand, it is a mystery play, where we wait for great truths to be revealed. While on the other, it is an insightful study of character where everyone’s truth is essential to our understanding of humanity and human actions and responsibilities.