It had been over three years since I’d been to a live theater performance when I saw “All My Sons” at the URI Theater on Sunday. That being said, I was blown away by what I saw. As someone who tends to watch movies rather than attend plays, I was surprisingly captivated by the single set, nine actor and actress play. They were able to do more in two hours than most movies are able to do with multimillion dollar budgets.
“All My Sons” was originally written by Arthur Miller, who many consider to be one of America’s greatest playwrights. The original production debuted on Broadway in 1947 and won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award along with Tony Awards for Best Author and Best Direction of a play. In 1987 the play was brought back and won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a play.
At URI, “All My Sons” was directed by Professor Bryna Wortman with the help of her production manager, Paula McGlasson. The play revolved around four main characters- Joe Keller, Chris Keller, Kate Keller, and Ann Deever. The story takes place in a Midwestern community a year after the end of World War II. Chris Keller is back home working for his father, Joe (Bob Perry), after fighting in the war for a period of time. During the war he commanded a company of one hundred men, nearly all of whom are killed.
In the play, Chris is a 32 year old man. Diego Guevara, the actor who played Chris, did an excellent job portraying him despite his being a decade younger than his character. Chris wants to propose to Ann Deever, who was previously in a relationship with his brother, Larry. Larry was a pilot in the war who is missing in action and presumed dead by all in the family except for his mother, Kate (played by Emma Sacchetti). Ann, played by the lovely Devin Vietri, has accepted that Larry is gone and wants to marry Chris. The problem is that Kate will not believe that Larry is dead, and Ann’s own father has bad blood with Joe Keller.
Mr. Deever and Joe worked at the same airplane parts factory, making valve heads for planes during the war. A bad batch of valves gets sent out, resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots. Mr. Deever is blamed for the accident and sent to prison, resulting in the feud between him and Joe. “All My Sons” traces its roots back to Greek tragedy, and is reminiscent of the simple yet effective single-set dramas of the ancients.
I went into the play with an open mind and no expectations about what I was to witness. At first I thought it was difficult to focus on, mostly because Chris Keller seemed like an unappreciative boy trying to take his brother’s girl. It evolved into so much more than that, turning into a desperate family conflict watched on all sides by the whole community. Between the carefully measured acting and Professor Wortman’s talent as a director, “All My Sons” pulled me into its story unsuspectingly and spit me out like Jonah and the Whale at the end. And it was the end that moved me the most.
Usually I’m not exactly the most emotional person. The last production to make me feel any sort of connection with the characters was “Life Is Beautiful”, a harrowing comedy-drama about the struggles of an Italian-Jewish family surviving the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp in WWII. But by the end of “All My Sons”, I almost felt compelled to shed a tear for the events that transpired. The final scene caught me entirely by surprise and left me with a hollow “could this really be the end?” pit in my stomach. After two hours of learning about the characters dreams, fears, relationships and personalities, it suddenly just ended. Blown out like a candle in a hurricane, so to say.
URI Theatre will be showing “All My Sons” February 26-28th at 7:30 pm and March 1st at 3:00 pm. For tickets call 401.874.5843 or visit web.uri.edu/theatre
Included in this article is a brief post play Q&A led by Professor Bryna Wortman, Professor Richard McIntyre, and Professor Eric Loomis:
Q: All My Sons was acted out on a single set, the Keller back yard, for the whole play. What was the significance of this?
Prof. Wortman: Arthur Miller wanted to replicate the Greek tragedies of old, which were often set on hilltops or amphitheaters with limited props. Miller wanted the audience to focus on the mastery of words, not the scenery. The words were meant to attract more attention than the behavior. Also with the back yard, AMS is able to embody the message of growth shown by the times in which the scenes were set- morning, twilight, and evening.
Q: How long did it take to create chemistry between the actors and actresses?
Prof. Wortman: In December the play was casted. I told the potential actors and actresses to study and learn their parts in time for the spring semester. Come January 13th, the roles were set and the actors were able to start rehearsing (four nights a week and even weekends).