Was Arthur Miller Anti-American or rather, one of America's most patriotic playwrights? This question continued to run through my mind as I watched the Player's Guild of Leonia's powerful production of Miller's "All My Sons" now playing at the Civil War Drill Hall through October 9th.
Written in 1947, the play depicts a seemingly All-American family living the "American Dream" in post-World War II suburbia. Yet beneath this sugarcoated existence is a story rife with long held secrets and perpetual lies which eventually tears the family apart. Questioning the virtue of pursuing the American Dream at the expense of upholding morality is perhaps what led to Miller being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950's. On the other hand, Miller's decision to title his masterpiece "All My Sons" demonstrates his patriotic conviction that soldiers who risk their lives on behalf of our country deserve to be considered all of our children.
"I think Arthur Miller loved this country," contends the plays accomplished director Carol Fisher-Gertner. "I think he saw what America could be and what it should be. He believed America was a collective, that we were all here to help each other - the idea that there's something bigger than the family. We're all each other's keeper."
At the heart of PGL's production is actor Glenn Woertz who gives a gut-wrenching performance as self-made businessman Joe Keller. During the war, Keller allowed his business partner to take the fall for shipping defective airplane cylinder heads out of their factory, resulting in the death of 21 servicemen. While struggling with his guilt, Keller attempts to justify his actions by convincing himself and his devoted wife that it was done for the good of the family. Says Ms. Fisher-Gertner, "What Glenn gives to the character of Joe is his underbelly - a glimpse of the Joe that would sell out his friend, the Joe that would send these parts out overseas knowing they were defective. Glenn gives a mean word here or there, or says something in a certain way that makes the audience believe, ‘maybe he's not as nice as he seems".
As the Keller's son Chris, Felipe Valente does a fine job representing the idealism of the post- War era. "Chris is the idea of what this country could be at it's best, yet with the realization that we are far from perfect," explains the director. "Chris has this grand idea of a community, of a collective and that we should all look out for each other. Then he comes back from the war and finds that nobody really cares." Ultimately, Chris must face not only disappointment in his country but in the father he idolized his entire life. In an explosive scene in which Chris learns of his father's transgression, Valente eloquently exclaims, "I know you are no worse than most men, but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father." It is a cruel realization and a powerful moment in the drama.
The director maintains that Miller's "All My Sons" is as relevant today as when it was written in the late 40's. "After 9/11, if you asked any question about anything that happened, you were automatically considered unpatriotic. There was a sense that you were either with us or against us," she contends. "Miller makes the point that by questioning things, we can make this country the best it can be. He doesn't tear down the American Dream, he bolsters it and shows us a path to it."
Is Miller the traitor he was accused of being in the 1950's or instead, a staunch patriot? See PGL's compelling production of "All My Sons" and decide for yourself!
"All My Sons" will be playing on Saturday, October 8 at 8 pm, and Sunday, October 9 at 3 pm and 7 pm.
The Civil War Drill Hall Theatre, 130 Grand Avenue, Leonia. Tickets $20/$18 seniors and students. Call 201-947-9606 or visit www.leoniaplayers.org for reservations and information.