A makeover for playwright Arthur Miller
Race-conscious casting upgrades ‘All My Sons’
Praxis Stage opens its new season with a production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” at Chelsea Theatre Works, October 11–27. This classic piece of modern theater depicts a family torn apart by kept secrets. But Praxis uses race-conscious casting to shine a contemporary light on the story, set in the World War II era.
“It’s very much a play that interrogates the American dream and upward mobility,” says director Joe Juknievich. “The play also deals with making profits off of war and demonstrating the nature of truth. It’s a question we’re seeing in the headlines even today.”
The crux of the plot revolves around the aftermath of a court ruling. Joe Keller, patriarch of the Keller family, was charged with knowingly shipping damaged aircraft equipment from his factory during World War II, causing the deaths of 21 pilots. Keller blamed the failed equipment on his neighbor Steve Deever, patriarch of the Deever family. Deever went to jail; Keller did not.
By casting the Deever children, Ann and George, with black actors (Lorna Lowe and Dominic Carter), the play calls into question the racial bias in our current criminal justice system. “I think it’s even more relevant when you swap out two traditionally white characters with black characters,” says Carter. “Once again we’re getting blamed for something we weren’t the source of.”
Tensions rise further when Chris Keller, son of Joe, and Ann Deever decide they want to marry. Neither family is in favor. Ann spends the play consistently being told what to do and how to be by the other characters. “I find it very easy to understand how a young black woman would navigate this space,” says Lowe.
Miller’s work takes place in one setting, a backyard. The compelling moments of the show are delivered in the concise, power-packed sentences that mark the playwright’s style. Fully enjoying the production requires careful listening — an underutilized skill also helpful in navigating current political waters. “I’m hoping [audience members] come away with the magical feeling of being wrapped up in good writing,” says Lowe.
Praxis also makes a statement with the location of the play at Chelsea Theatre Works. By removing the show from the downtown theater districts, primarily visited by white audiences, the production becomes more accessible to other audiences.
“I think there’s something really wonderful about performing in a dynamic community that doesn’t speak English as a first language,” says Lowe. “We remind ourselves that the arts are for everyone.”