All My Sons

War profiteering is as old as war itself. Those who make their money from armed conflict are sure to arrange it and support it at every opportunity; in fact, the U.S. has been at war for 225 of its 242 years. As has been amply demonstrated in the public record, the same banks and their corporations often fund and supply both sides in a war; for example: 1) the Union Banking Corporation (controlled by Prescott Bush, Herbert Walker, the Dulles brothers, and the Harrimans) invested in and laundered money for Fritz Thyssen's industrial empire that built more than half of Hitler's war machine; 2) the Rockefeller's Standard Oil sold fuel and Zyklon B nerve gas to the Nazis; and 3) Thomas Watson's IBM helped the SS keep track of those in concentration camps and those who were exterminated.

Arthur Miller, 19152005, Photo: U.S. Dept. of State
Arthur Miller
Photo: U.S. Dept. of State
Arthur Miller staked the continuation of his career as a playwright on this script, which looks at war profiteering, and it proved to be a success, opening on Broadway at the Coronet Theatre on January 29, 1947, and winning the Tony Award for Best Author and the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play (Elia Kazan), as well as the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. The play was adapted for film in 1948 and 1987, and remains one of the classics of American theatre, not only for its dramatic structure and characters, but for its continuing relevance and topicality.

The basis for Miller's play is a true story. In 194143 the Wright Aeronautical Corporation based in Ohio conspired with army inspection officers to approve defective aircraft engines destined for military use. In 1944, three Army Air Force officers were relieved of duty and later convicted of neglect of duty. This type of scandal was not an isolated event in the history of warfare, or even in the history of U.S. warfare.1

Emma Messenger as Kate and Sam Gregory as Joe
Emma Messenger as Kate and Sam Gregory as Joe
Photo: Matt Gale Photography 2018
Another major influence on this work is Ibsen's The Wild Duck, from which Miller borrowed the idea of one business partner having to take the rap for the other, as well as Ibsen's recurring theme (e.g., An Enemy of the People) of idealism being in the cross hairs of collective and individual greed.

(Left to right) Kate Gleason as Sue and Regina Fernandez as Ann
Kate Gleason as Sue
and Regina Fernandez as Ann
Photo: Matt Gale Photography 2018
The play revolves around Joe Keller (Sam Gregory), whose factory built aircraft engines during World War II. There was a cover-up involving cracked cylinder heads that were put in the engines of combat aircraft, leading to the deaths of 21 pilots. Both Joe and his partner, Steve Deever, were incarcerated, though Joe's conviction was later overturned.

Jessica Austgen as Lydia
Jessica Austgen as Lydia
Photo: Matt Gale Photography 2018
Before Miller introduces the conflicts and secrets, he paints an idyllic post-war scene of the Keller household and their neighbors. Then various dark currents begin to swirl. Joe's wife, Kate (Emma Messenger), still holds out hope that her oldest son, Larry, who went missing in action, will turn up, three and a half years after his disappearance, as was the case in a few isolated incidents (not including a number of Japanese soldiers who held out on Pacific Islands, where they never heard the news of the armistice).

The Keller's other son, Chris (Lance Rasmussen), is poised to take over his father's business, and has invited Larry's fiance and Steve's daughter, Ann Deever (Regina Fernandez), to visit, in hopes of expressing his love for her and proposing marriage. Kate is opposed to the whole idea, since she refuses to accept Larry's death.

Emma Messenger as Kate and Abner Genece as Dr. Jim
Emma Messenger as Kate
and Abner Genece as Dr. Jim
Photo: Matt Gale Photography 2018
Miller provides spare but telling glimpses into the past via the neighbors—the Lubeys, Frank (Zachary Andrews) and Lydia (Jessica Austgen), a guileless pair right out of Our Town, and the Bayliss couple, Jim (Abner Genece), an MD, and his wife Sue (Kate Gleason), who know more than they let on.

Geoffrey Kent as George
Geoffrey Kent as George
Photo: Matt Gale
Photography 2018
When George Deever (Geoffrey Kent) arrives, fresh from visting his dad in prison, the truth begins to make its way to the surface, not only in terms of what actually happened at the factory, but what each of these characters is made of. By using secrets as the fulcrum, Miller provides a natural way for each of the five Kellers and Deevers to undergo a marked and cathartic dramatic arc—one of the many reasons the script is so remarkable.

The ensemble lives up to Miller's high bar: Gregory's congenial Joe slowly and stubbornly revealing his underlying cynicism toward a dog-eat-dog world; Messenger's heavy-hearted Kate, avoiding the truth by constructing an alternative reality; Fernandez' sweet and brave Ann, renewing her hopes after Larry's death; Rasmussen's idealistic Chris, whose admiration for his father blinds him to the truth, until it's too late; and Kent's nuanced work as George, whose vast array of emotional twists and turns makes him the most complex of all. Nice work as well by Harrison Hauptman as, Bert, one of the neighborhood kids.

Zachary Andrews as Frank
Zachary Andrews as Frank
Photo: Matt Gale Photography 2018
Miller's use of natural symbols, including a sapling and the wind, bring a classical Greek atmosphere to the tragedy, much as is also found in Ibsen—these two playwrights being primarily responsible for expanding the classical definition of tragic figures, those of high positions, to include the common man (elevating the position of everyday humanity to collective and sovereign esteem).

There is no other playwright that dissects the human cost of capitalism as well as Arthur Miller. There are no straw men in Miller's plays, only everyday folks caught in the insidious vice of a privately-held and manipulated economy, in which they are treated as commodities bought and sold for the profit of the financiers.

(Left to right) Lance Rasmussen as Chris and Sam Gregory as Joe
Lance Rasmussen as Chris
and Sam Gregory as Joe
Photo: Matt Gale Photography 2018
Miller's message ruffled feathers among those who saw feathering their nest with others' plummage to be their birthright. He was called before House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the height of Joe McCarthy's red-baiting witch hunt, much as the still unsubstantiated claims regarding Russians behind every cartel crime are used today. Miller refused to bend to McCarthy's smears, unlike Kazan, who named names, as did Ronald Reagan, then President of the Screen Actors Guild. Instead, Miller wrote The Crucible, as an allegory of his experience and as a cautionary tale. Here, we see the same unflinching and well-crafted work from one of our greatest playwrights.

The Arvada Centers's presentation of All My Sons, directed by Lynne Collins, runs through May 3, 2018. For tickets:

Bob Bows

1 J.P. Morgan, the 19th century robber baron, was born to a great banking fortune. During the Civil War, his family bought his way out of military duty, which provided him the opportunity to profit off the slaughter. Morgan bought defective rifles for $3.50 each and sold them to a Union general for $22 each. The rifles blew off soldiers' thumbs, but Morgan pleaded ignorance, and government investigators graciously absolved the young, wealthy, well-connected financier of any fault. That seems to have set a pattern for his lifetime of antitrust violations, union busting, and other over-the-edge profiteering practices. He drew numerous official charges, without ever doing any jail time (Source)—much like to top-level bankers today (Source).

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