It's a family with a terrible secret. Businessman Joe Keller made money selling defective airplane engine parts to the U.S. military. As a result, 21 American pilots died because of the faulty equipment. Keller, the picture of a devoted family man, has sidestepped any blame in the matter but his partner is in jail shouldering the blame for Keller's actions.
Sounds like something from today's news, but famed playwright Arthur Miller wrote All My Sons almost 70 years ago. His message about war profiteering speaks as loudly now as it did in the post-World War II era when it was written says Theresa Rebeck, who is directing this production at the Alley Theatre.
Rebeck, a Pulitzer-nominated playwright of some note herself (Fool, What We're Up Against, Mauritius) whose work is frequently shown at the Alley says Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd urged her to take on directing reins.
"When we worked on Fool (a premiere) last year he was very inclusive of the playwright's voice. He was constantly inviting me to talk to the actors. At the end he said to me, 'You should be directing.' Other people have said that but he was not kidding." Within two months he was asking her what she thought of the cast he was assembling for All My Sons and she was all in.
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Rebeck is here working on another play commissioned by the Alley, as well as filling the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Playwriting spot at the University of Houston. Since the play was written so long ago, there is some language in it that doesn't translate to modern audiences, so there have been some adjustments, Rebeck says.
What's been retained is the tight structure Miller employs, something that has gone out of fashion now, Rebeck says. "This is a well-made play. But the characters themselves are such complex creations, they're what you follow."
Miller was part of the generation of playwrights that wrote all the time, Rebeck says, penning essays as well as plays. Playwrights then were making a statement about society and culture in any of their writing, she says. "Arthur Miller doesn't let anyone off the hook," Rebeck says of this play. "Miller really believes we can be better and we should be better."
Performances of All My Sons are scheduled for April 1 -19 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays at the Alley Theatre at the University of Houston, Wortham Theatre, 4116 Elgin. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 to $79.