From the Director
From the Guest Director, Joanna Weir Ouston
Welcome to our production of All My Sons. It is an enormous pleasure to work with Elements Theatre Company once again, and to see how the Company has matured over the years. Their repertoire is, as always, challenging, exciting and thought provoking. No less so with All My Sons, Arthur Miller’s first major theatrical success which premiered in New York on January 29, 1947.
Miller first began work on the play in 1945, taking around two years to write it. The idea was inspired by a newspaper story of corruption at the Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical Corporation in Ohio. Senior people at the Corporation had conspired with army inspection officers to certify faulty engines for use in military aircraft. According to the story, the daughter of one of the men involved revealed the corruption to the authorities. The story fascinated Miller, and in the play he turned the daughter into a son because he felt he didn’t know enough about girls to write that character well.
Corruption was not unknown during the war, and it was a ‘make or break’ time for many businesses. The engineering firms which were lucky enough to receive military contracts became very successful (and are some of the largest manufacturing firms around today), while those which failed to secure contracts generally went under during the war. Contracted firms not only secured the military’s business, but importantly, they also had priority for receiving raw material which was in short supply. Demand was intense, and firms were put under a lot of pressure by the military to produce parts quickly. Joe Keller’s dilemma when the cylinder heads were found to be faulty was intense and the potential to lose everything was real.
Premiering a couple of years after the war enabled All My Sons to be viewed as an exploration of the morality of our fundamental drive for financial security and success, rather than just a shocking tale of war-time corruption. Although the precipitous incident affecting the action of the play centres on a factory involved in the war effort, its core themes of social responsibility versus personal profit, denial of uncomfortable truths, and how our past actions shape our future, are universal and just as relevant to our lives today as they were in 1947.
Miller famously said: ‘I think the job of the artist is to remind people of what they have chosen to forget.’ In All My Sons Miller pulls no punches as he questions the broader implications of duty to self and family above duty to society. While it is natural to want to provide well for our families and to achieve personal success, the play demonstrates how those very desires can foster selfish, immoral behaviour. Yet, at which point does that little lie told in order to buy time to rectify a problem before it is noticed become dishonesty and irresponsibility? After all, had the faulty cylinder heads been recalled in time so no pilots died, perhaps Joe’s criminal action would have been viewed instead as a sound strategic decision which saved his business. Joe is an everyman figure focused on the microcosm of his own life and survival, and makes his decisions accordingly. Chris, his idealistic son, has the bigger human picture in mind and the collision of these two sets of values creates the central drama.
Miller’s themes of social responsibility and denial are beautifully and intricately woven throughout the play. Even Chris is fallible, being conveniently idealistic in the areas that suit him and blind to those issues he finds uncomfortable. After all, at some level he has a niggling doubt about his father’s innocence but he chooses to ignore it, and he enjoys the Keller’s comfortable lifestyle but doesn’t want to ‘grub for money’ himself. Presumably it is acceptable for his father to have to ‘grub for money’ so that he, Chris, can be free to idealistically soar above the mundane realities of life. We fall for Chris, but we also see how easy it is to talk idealism and how much it costs to really live it.
It is a fascinating and profound play because the characters are so likeable, ordinary, and genuine. Their desires and aspirations are much like our own, but they are unfortunate to be challenged with extraordinary circumstances which demand instant, pivotal decisions affecting their entire future. While it is easy to superficially judge Joe Keller’s actions as morally wrong, the play challenges us to empathize with him, understand the fear which motivated his actions, and to question ‘what would I really do if it were me facing the loss of my house and business?’.
I hope you enjoy watching the play as much as we have enjoyed working on it.