Arthur Miller resolved in 1944 never to write a play again. “I didn’t want to be a thirty year-old would-be playwright. There’s so many other things you can do with your life.” His only commercial effort had closed after only 4 performances in 3 days, and he was thrashed by critics. "THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE LUCK lacks either the final care or the luck to make it a good play” (Lewis Nichols, New York Times, 24 Nov 1944). Soon he broke that resolution, however. He spent two years working on the script for ALL MY SONS and returned to Broadway in January 1947 with it and director Elia Kazan. The success of this second effort launched Miller's eventual status as an American cultural icon, which would eventually include his magnum opus DEATH OF A SALESMAN, a marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and subpoenaed testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The play overlays a Romeo & Juliet premise over the basis of true events which occurred at an Ohio military contractor during WWII. The star-crossed lovers in this case are Chris Keller (played by Sean Gordon) and Annie Deever (Katrin Otterness). Their fathers had been partners Joe Keller (Rick Smith) and Steve Deever (unseen) who once operated a company that produced engines for military aircraft. Annie is the ex-girlfriend of Chris' brother Larry, a fighter pilot who went missing in action in the Pacific Theatre. Annie has arrived at the Keller home in Ohio. She and Chris prepare to announce their engagement amid their families' mutual loathing. A prosecution by the government during the war had landed her father in prison while Joe escaped conviction and continues to run the company making civilian appliances.
Rick Smith plays the patriarch Joe Keller with comfortable ease and confidence throughout the entire first act, during which he remains onstage almost continually. Tracy Hurd delivers an outstanding performance as Joe's devoted wife Kate who remains in stubborn denial about facts generally accepted by all around her. Two sets of neighbors Dr. Jim and Sue Bayliss (Beau Paul and Christina Little-Manley) and Frank and Lydia Lubey (Phillip Smith and Marett Hanes) serve to place those facts in doubt.
Annie's brother George (Ty Wiley) arrives in the second act demanding that Annie leave with him immediately, and this is where the drama escalates to off-the-chain levels as conflicts are played out. Expert performances by all five major actors rivet the audience silently in their seats except for occasional gasps as new facts are revealed. The performance I attended culminated in the audience standing for applause.
ALL MY SONS' original premier on Broadway counter-balanced the post-war collective elation of good prevailing over evil. As Arthur Miller said of it years later, “There’s a lot of crookedness in this war. There’s a lot of selfish people who didn’t give a damn about whether we won or lost.” Miller's examination of flaws in the American Dream in this and other works likely contributed to his McCarthy-era questioning as a suspected communist. This, then, is not only a powerful moment in dramatic literature, but snapshots a significant moment in American history as well. I highly recommend the experience.