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2018-01-31 / Featured / News

Arthur Miller classic hits Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Local theater stages "All My Sons"
BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER


Jacqueline O'Connor and George Dippold star as mother and son Kate and Chris Keller in "All My Sons." 
ASH DANIEL Jacqueline O'Connor and George Dippold star as mother and son Kate and Chris Keller in "All My Sons." ASH DANIEL When “All My Sons” debuted on Broadway, it was such a resounding success that it scared playwright Arthur Miller.

Finding himself suddenly embraced by a society and system he’d long critiqued in his work, and fearful of getting lost in it, he dealt with his newfound fame by visiting an employment agency and taking up a manual labor job. The job didn’t last, but Miller’s success did. He would return to his typewriter to create further theatrical masterworks, including “Death of a Salesman,” “The Crucible” and “A View from the Bridge.”

The story of a family torn apart by secrets and war profiteering, “All My Sons” struck a nerve with post-World War II audiences when it debuted in 1947. Blending elements of ancient Greek tragedy and the work of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, Miller ironically benefitted from the American Dream ethos he’d spend much of his career assailing, including in “All My Sons.”

The show is currently playing at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, and longtime artistic director Tom Width hopes it will resonate with today’s audiences as it did back in 1947.

“It’s a play about a man who knowingly sold some defective [airplane] parts” to the military, explains Width. “He managed to blame it all on his partner, and the partner’s in prison.”

Based on a true story, the show concerns factory owner Joe Keller and his family. Keller’s son Larry died in the war; his other son, Chris, now wants to marry Larry’s former fiancee, Ann. Further complicating matters is the fact that Ann’s father was Keller’s partner, now imprisoned because of him.

“It’s really about human beings and their frailties, and this particular family gets pretty well torn apart,” says Width, the show’s director. “Whether it’s wartime or not, corporate malfeasance is certainly still a subject to be talked about. It still rings true today.”

After his factory produces defective aircraft engine cylinder heads, Keller makes the decision to send them to the military anyway, rather than miss a deadline and imperil his government contract. Keller is sure that the latter would bankrupt him; instead, the faulty parts kill 21 pilots.

Barry Pruitt, a local actor and former owner of the now-defunct Richmond restaurant The White Dog, plays Keller. Pruitt says the biggest challenge of the role is not making his character out to be a bad person.

“These decisions … aren’t made by bad guys. They’re made by good guys who love their family, and love their town, and work hard and do everything [else] right,” he says. “[He] comes to realize by the very end that he’s not only responsible to protect his own sons, but protect everyone else’s sons as well.”

George Dippold plays Keller’s son Chris, and says the play is an intimate portrait of a family trying to deal with the aftermath of World War II. “They’re trying to find the good in it, but it’s mostly bad,” he says. “It’s trying to start a new chapter of a family unit, but realizing how much baggage there is to unpack.”

Dippold’s character wants to marry his dead brother’s ex-fiancee, and stands to inherit his father’s factory. Chris idolizes his father, but gradually begins to realize his father’s role in the death of the pilots.

For Dippold, the play brings up a number of intriguing moral questions.

“When is it worth it to make certain sacrifices when your family and core beliefs are on the line?” Dippold says. “How do you navigate making sacrifices in a time of war and in a time of peace? How can you hold yourself accountable, and think about both the past and the future all at once?”

Width says this is a show he’s wanted to produce since he was involved in a community theater production of it as a teenager in New Jersey.

“The titular line in that has always stuck with me: ‘Sure, he was my son, but I think to him they were all my sons,’ and I’ve always just remembered it and how powerful the play was,” Width says.

“It’s one of the great classics of American theater, and you don’t get to see them often enough.”

“All My Sons” plays through Feb. 24 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, 23834. For more information, visit swiftcreekmill.com or call 748-5203. ¦

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