August 28, 2014

SRT stages Arthur Miller drama ‘All My Sons’

The play is set shortly after World War II and takes on corruption, morality and war profiteering in the space of a family drama.

It’s hard to come up with a first when you’ve been around for 35 years. But the Sierra Repertory Theatre is poised for one with the opening of its newest production.

The staging of “All My Sons,” opening Friday, will be the foothills theater company’s first staging of a work by American playwright Arthur Miller.

“He is considered by many one of the greatest American playwrights ever. The fact we’ve never done one of his works is surprising,” said Sierra Rep artistic director Scott Viets, who is also directing the play.

While his more famous works such as “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible” have become common fare in high school and college theater departments, Miller’s lesser-known “All My Sons” was his first Broadway success. Viets said he saw the play seven years ago in a Los Angeles production and has wanted to bring it to Sonora since.

Set right after World War II, “All My Sons” tells the story of successful businessman Joe Keller, who seems to have the perfect family but harbors a dark secret. During the war, his company made faulty engine parts that resulted in the deaths of 21 American pilots. But instead of taking responsibility, he allowed his business partner to take the blame while he continued living the American dream.

Presenting a straight dramatic play like “All My Sons” is a departure from the company’s normal lineup of musicals and high-energy fare. Viets said it was a risk he was happy to take and he hopes the audience will come along for the experience.

“It’s such a great piece, it really is. Even though it takes place in 1947, it’s still very relevant today. It’s all about capitalism, profiteering, morality. It’s one man’s decision to do what is just best for his family at the cost of others,” Viets said. “Would really love for people to come out and see this gem. I hope people will come out and give it a chance.”

Interest from the theater community has been high from the start. The company received more than 1,000 submissions for the 10 roles. More than 100 actors were auditioned. The cast, from Los Angeles and San Francisco, is composed largely of Sierra Rep first-timers.

Among them is L.A.-based actor John Combs, who plays family patriarch, Joe Keller. He said it was a role he long has been attracted to, and was thrilled to take on.

“I thought even as a young actor that one day I want to play Joe Keller. I know I’m old enough now, maybe I’m good enough, too. It’s one of those complex roles you work your way up to,” said Combs, 60. “It’s a deeply moving and emotional experience just to work on the play. I can’t wait to get it in front of an audience. I think they’re going to love it.”

Joining Combs onstage in her Sierra Rep debut will be Southern California actress Alyson Lindsay as Ann Deever, the daughter of Keller’s former business partner now serving time in prison. The two families grew up together and Ann is engaged to one of the Keller sons.

“It’s a beautiful snapshot of the American dream and what we owe to each other and the greater world,” Lindsay said. “I am just so grateful to be doing this show at this time. It really carries a message about what we owe to each other and it’s really powerful.”

The play won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and its Broadway run took home two Tony Awards – best author for Miller and best director for Elia Kazan. The story was loosely based on a real-life incident where an aeronautical company and military inspectors conspired to deliver defective aircraft engines to U.S. troops.

Viets said that while a serious piece like “All My Sons” might be a tougher sell (dramas can attract half the audience of a popular musical), he thinks those who take the chance should be deeply affected by the story.

“If people walking out of the parking lot are discussing the play, analyzing it, that’s the goal,” he said. “I hope that they will not be the same when they leave the theater as when they came in.”

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