Though a period piece, written nearly 70 years ago, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons still remains relevant and palpable to audiences today. And if you’ve never seen a play, this is the one to see.
Set shortly after World War II, the play revolves around the all American Keller family who are still experiencing aftermath of the war, primarily through their Missing in Action son Larry. Kate Keller (Anne Gee Byrd) lives in her steadfast conviction that her son will someday return. Her husband indulges her; Alex Morris as Joe Keller is quite believable as the loving, respected patriarch of the family and neighborhood. When the past revisits him in his own backyard, signaled by his past son’s former girlfriend and his only son’s current love Annie’s (Linda Park) visit, the cowardice and avarice that got him exonerated for selling defective airplane parts surface. Unbeknownst to both Chris and Annie, Joe had allowed Annie’s father to take his prison sentence for the faulty parts. Ignorant of his father’s self-preserving capabilities, Chris (A.K. Murtadha) has a devastatingly emotional breakdown at the play’s climatic ending. Park’s understanding of the emotional journey of her character especially shines at the end when she reveals her long kept secret about Larry. When Annie’s brother George unexpectedly comes to bring her home, a much younger side is exposed to juxtapose with her more mature, poised self. James Hiroyuki Liao as George does a wonderful job playing the fierce older brother on the warpath to save his sister from being made a fool, or so he claims.
So what’s so different about this play than every other play currently playing town?
The 1947 Broadway opening of the original production of All My Sons starred a racially homogeneous cast. The Matrix Theatre Company‘s production of this Miller classic features a multi-ethnic cast. ”I wanted to take an American classic and cast it non-traditionally — but not just throw it up against the wall and cast whatever color actor did the best audition,” says producer Joseph Stern, “All My Sons was perfect for multi-ethnic casting, allowing for a representation of the different ethnicities that would be so common in a neighborhood today.” As a part of a three-play season that took Stern a few years to determine and develop, Sons not only brought in an ethnically diverse audience to the Matrix Theatre but also gave a fresh opportunity for actors of color to perform. And we certainly get all colors of the rainbow, short of a green Martian. Kate Keller is white, and Joe is black. Their son Chris is biracial. The Kellers’ neighbors are white and Latino. Annie and her brother George is Asian.
Stern emphasizes that the intent of the multi-ethnic casting is not to “reset the play in another time or place, or deconstruct it. However, when the audiences sees this extraordinary cast, the issues inherent in Miller’s play are experienced in a fresh expanded cultural context.” While preserving Miller’s original message and artistic agenda was important and was maintained, Stern felt including the issue of race in America was just as important. He wrote his company members asking, “When you act in a play in Los Angeles and look out at the audience, do you see many faces of color out there? And on a daily basis, how many people do you interact with that are people of color?” Based on their responses, Stern decided it was time for a different approach. And cast in this shade, the play’s timeless themes of responsibility, to oneself and to one’s family, individual responsibility versus the greater outer world’s, social responsibility versus greed, self-sacrifice.. such themes are brought to question and examined in a new light.
Funnily, though I loved seeing the diversity in the cast, I didn’t care for the actors’ ethnic backgrounds after the initial surprise of seeing “in color.” Straight up, I got carried away by the dope acting. I fell in love with theater as a gawky high school kid, and I found myself falling in love again as I felt Anne Gee Bryd as Kate break my heart in her moment of truth. Her portrayal was painstakingly honest and riveting — a woman of extreme vulnerability, yet of immense strength . At the pivotal climatic end of the play, she leaves the audience with a haunting, “Joe, Joe, Joe..”
I went home writhing.
If you’ve never seen a play, this is the one to see.
Who: The Matrix Theatre Company and Producer Joseph Stern
What: All My Sons by Arthur Miller, directed by Cameron Watson
When: October 22 – December 18
Thurs – Sat @ 8 pm, Sun @ 2 pm
Where: The Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Tickets can be purchased here or call 323.960.7773