Stratford Festival’s “All My Sons”

I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with Arthur Miller’s works, I’ve been reading his plays since grade 12 and frequently found that I was disappointed; in the characters or the plot trajectory, nothing really grabbed me. All My Sons did everything but disappoint. Honestly, it totally redeemed Miller in my opinion, with this gripping, troubling, beautiful play.

I found that the themes of this play were very similar to some of Miller’s other works. All My Sons focuses on the relationship between father and son, and how the “American Dream” fits into that relationship. In this case, Joe Keller wants his business to be passed down to his sons, so he makes questionable decisions to ensure that that’s able to happen. Where we see the real tension is between the older generation’s idea of what is necessary versus the younger generation; as the information of the true events of Keller and his former business partner Mr. Deever get revealed it becomes more and more of a burden on Chris, Joe’s son. We see, in two very different ways (through the Keller’s and the Deevr’s), how the sins of the fathers are visited on their sons: one is through anger and mistrust, the other a crushing guilt.

Kate Keller is convinced that her elder son, Larry, who is MIA from the war, is bound to come home. We watch as it consumes her waking and sleeping thoughts. She evens involved her neighbours in trying to convince the rest of the family that she must be correct and Larry must be alive. Her passion boarders on insanity, and yet we see that come crashing to reality when Ann Deever (who used to be Larry’s girlfriend but is now beloved of Chris) shows Kate a letter which Larry sent to her just before he disappeared. It was one of the most striking moments in the play, as Kate reads the letter, she only lets out one shriek, one moment of total release, and then it’s as if all of her sanity has been restored. Instead of destroying her, which I thought it would, the letter makes her somehow more resolute and strong. The change was so instantaneous and the opposite of what I expected, I was floored.

With the play being performed as theatre in the round, these difficult issues and moral crises were inescapable, and I loved it. While the set itself was beautiful and you truly feel like you’re in a beautiful backyard, there was a moment where I realized that there was no way out, for the characters or for us as audience members. Because you are denied the esthetic distance of a proscenium stage, it forces you to be just as involved as the characters are and go on the ride with them, for better or for worse.  

This play was superbly acted, they left you no choice but to care deeply about the characters on stage. Lucy Peacock and Joseph Zeigler lead the cast as Mr and Mrs Keller, providing passionate perofmances that cut to the core. Tim Campbell’s performance as Chris Keller was marvellous, his emotions reached out to every member of the audience, and he had us all feeling heartbroken by the end of the play. Sarah Afful and Michael Blake play Ann and George Deever, who have such drastically different relationships with the Kellers that it hardly seems like they’re related at all, yet their performances were equally beautiful, showing how one event can impact people so differently. Supported by the talents of E.B. Smith, Lanise Antione Shelley, Rodrigo Belifuss, Jessica B. Hill, Maxwell Croft-Fraser, and Brandon Scheidler, this was a well constructed cast without a weak link. 

All My Sons is a play that will leave you puzzling and thinking long after the performance is done. This amazing production only runs until Sunday, so get your tickets now!

University Player’s “The Crucible”

I remember reading this play in Grade 11 English class and not really being a huge fan of the play; however after seeing this production I must admit my mind was changed. I thought that this production was exceptionally well cast, and most certainly well performed. It changed my perspective on the play for sure!

The play itself is a difficult read but a wonder to behold. The events of the play are so frustrating and infuriating, and yet that’s Miller’s point. His audience was in the midst of the same sort of “witch hunting” during President McCarthy’s reign and with that social injustice in mind he is able to show his audience, as well as all audiences since, the ridiculous injustice of such unfounded prying into people’s lives. I’m not sure if it moved the people then, but it certainly moved me. To watch these people being charged, and hanged, all because of the supposedly good word of a few young women was practically unbearable. It’s amazing what ignorance and fear can do to people. And yet we see it all over the world today, people who are willing to do anything in the name of the cause they believe in purely because they think it’s correct. The people of Salem believed they were in danger of witches and witchcraft; they weren’t the first town to think so and they certainly won’t be the last.

The prologue of the play, which was added in by director Gordon McCall, was fabulously done. I loved singing the hymns before the play begins; it put the audience into the proper mindset of the play. Plus it provided a huge contrast to the rest of the prologue. The part with Tituba and the girls in the woods is written in the script, and needs to be acted out for the play to truly make sense. The only issue I had was that the music got very modern the more the prologue went on; at first it was very tribal and drum based (which I really liked because the voodoo magic itself is very tribal in nature) but then it turned into a very pulsating beat like at a dance club. While it created an even more stark contrast than it already possessed, it was a choice I don’t think I would have made (although it really was the only one!)

The way the show looked was incredible as well. I loved how the set worked with negative space and therefore was able to be everywhere the play needed it to be. At the same time the empty beams also resembled the gallows that so many of the characters were destined for. The costumes were lovely. I was so happy that they were of the period; it made the play so much more real to me. I’m always impressed at how amazing and professional these productions are. You can tell how dedicated everyone is to their craft, and the professors that lead these talented students are certainly no exception.

This play was expertly cast. The cast itself was huge, and had students who were as young as first or second year mixed in with the fourth year students. An ensemble cast of that size is not often seen in a University Players production, so this was a real treat. With such a large ensemble it seems almost unfair to select a few to praise, especially since everyone impressed me so much. All I can say, is that there were some of them I wanted to punch, some of them I could have strangled myself, some of them I wanted to hug, and if the play had have gone on much longer, I don’t think I could have made it. I was almost crying by the end of it as it was!

So the University Players have definitely changed my opinion about The Crucible, and I am thankful for it. I felt like I really went through a very difficult experience with these characters. There’s something about seeing this raw human nature on stage that makes for an unforgettable ordeal. Plays like this are why I am so passionate about theatre.