Michael Buffong, director of All My Sons and artistic director of the Talawa Theatre Company, has answered many questions about the all-black cast. Yet the talent of the actors blinds the preconceived commentaries of Miller’s play based on the All- American family, and each character is performed flawlessly. The Exchange hosts the play in its intimate theatre-in-the-round that was, predictably, close to capacity on the opening night.
Set in 1947, the Second World War serves as an uncomfortably close memory and backdrop to the play’s action. Don Warrington plays Joe Keller, the patriarch and prosperous partner in a factory building fighter plane parts. Joe is suspected of authorising the distribution of faulty parts which caused the deaths of American pilots during the war. Having rigidly denied this, he is cleared of blame in a court of law allowing him and his wife Kate to regain their position in their community as the idealised family. The jarring absence of one of their sons, Larry, a pilot missing in action, yanks the past into the present when Larry’s fiancé returns to the neighbourhood, forcing Joe to reexamine his actions.
Arthur Miller interprets the struggle of Americans, disillusioned by war and the unobtainable American Dream, by writing a dialogue based on conflict between the responsibility for one’s family and a wider responsibility to society. The play has a moralising tone that is particularly potent to modern audiences in its contemplation of the corrupting nature of capitalism. Miller’s genius as a playwright is acutely clear at the crux of the play. Shame and guilt, responsibility and love seep from every pore on stage, one character replicating the actions of another in a heady mélange of emotion in the final scene.
The unchanging set facilitated the steady pace of the play, and the proximity of the action and well-timed climax moved me to tears; I was not the only one delivering a teary-eyed applause. Every character could be mentioned individually for their beautiful and humble performance: the casting is faultless. All My Sons will certainly be one of the highlights of the Manchester Weekender. Long may the successful marriage of the Royal Exchange and the Talawa Theatre Company continue.
All My Sons is playing at the Royal Exchange Theatre from 25 September – 26 October 2013.