Some pieces of art, despite changing times, tastes and popular culture, remain “timeless.” These works are ones that not only reflect, but also define culture. 

One of these is Arthur Miller’s 1947 play, “All My Sons.” From Oct. 9 to Oct. 18, the play returns to its birthplace to celebrate the 100th year of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the centennial of Arthur Miller’s birth. SMTD has produced the play with a cast of 10 actors and director Wendy Goldberg. The premiere of the play last week kicked off a series of events in honor of the anniversaries. 

Playwright Arthur Miller is arguably one of the most important American makers of these works. His subtle critique of the American Dream and intimately recognizable characters are graspable to any audience. “All My Sons,” one of his earliest and most popular plays, perfectly captures his artisty and commentary. 

Based on true events, the story follows Joe Keller and his family. Joe authorized the sale of defective airplane parts during WWII, leading to 21 plane crashes. The blame, however, is put on Joe’s partner while he is exonerated. The family struggles with the grief of their lost son, Larry, as their youngest, Chris, prepares to propose to Larry’s ex-fiancée. In 24 hours, grief, guilt and moral dilemma unfold. 

“All My Sons” made its Broadway debut in 1947 as Miller’s second large professional production. His first had closed after only four performances in 1940, in what can only be described as a “flop.” This was only two years after Miller’s graduation from the University. 

Miller began his time at Michigan as a journalism major and writer for The Michigan Daily, before switching his major to study English. Within the department, he began his artistry under the guidance of Kenneth Rowe. It was this relationship that continued to connect Miller to the University throughout his life. 

Through his studies of Greek classics and the works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, Miller was drawn to themes of middle-class life and human weakness, which would inspire his work and the other most important plays of the 20th century. 

“He knew that if it wasn’t successful, he wouldn’t remain a dramatist. As he himself has put it, ‘there were far more important things to do in the world’ than write plays,” director Goldberg said. 

Goldberg, who also graduated from the University in 1995 as a Theater and Comparative Literature major, understands the deep relevance of the play today. She has high hopes for its audience. 

“This play will always have resonance because war is a big business and we, as a nation, seem to always be in that business. In addition, the central themes of honor and duty in a family will be issues families throughout history will grapple with,” Goldberg said. “My hope artistically is to expose the depth of this story and remind audiences of the timeless nature of this work.” 

Much of this timeless nature can be attributed to Miller’s ability to resonate with a broad audience. Goldberg uses the example of gender to discuss this, rejecting the idea that Miller writes “guy plays.” Her personal and most poignant connection to the play is with the wife and mother, Kaye Keller. 

“There is language about all that Kate has kept of her lost son Larry’s; she has preserved his room and his things, and our production exposes what is up in that bedroom we never see on stage. For me, it is to shed light on all the pain mothers in particular have to endure with this sort of loss,” Goldberg said. “Kate Keller is given the last lines of this play — like a great Shakespeare play, the final speaker is assumed to be the one who will be the successor, and indeed in this domestic world, it remains true.” 

The excitement and commitment of those behind the production merits attention as well. Goldberg and the cast of 10 students (some acting parts many years their senior) will bring to life these nuanced perspectives, freshening the play and maximizing its emotional power. 

“My other large job in this production is to modulate the emotional intensity and help the actors choreograph their internal and external life,” Goldberg said.  Each character is critical in their own way, and the team has spent a great deal of time developing each individual story. 

“To direct Miller in the only theater in the world named after Miller, at a place that has shared this meaning for both of us, is a gift I will always cherish,” Goldberg said. 

As a treasure of American artistry and an accessible exploration of social responsibility, war and loss, “All My Sons” fulfills its important artistic function, transcends generational gaps and earns its handle as “timeless.” 

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