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Arts & Entertainment

Arthur Miller’s Dark Genius at BU Theatre

All My Sons tackles war, loyalty, and money

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In the slide show above, actors Will Lyman (CFA’71) and Karen MacDonald (CFA’72), who play Joe and Kate Keller in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of All My Sons, talk about how the 60-year-old play resonates today.

Three years after Arthur Miller’s first play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, closed its doors after only four performances, the young playwright gave it another shot. Legend has it that Miller vowed that if his second play died as quickly as his first, he would quit writing and find a real job. But when All My Sons opened in January 1947, the response was more than heartening. The play, based on the true story of a businessman who sold faulty parts to the military, won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and a Tony Award for Best Authored Play.

Now, in the shadow of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the play returns to the stage, courtesy of the Huntington Theatre Company, in residence at Boston University. Karen MacDonald (CFA’72), who plays Kate Keller, wife of the play’s protagonist, finds the timing of that rebirth particularly meaningful.

“The sad reality is war brings business,” says MacDonald. “It’s good for the economy; it’s been that way for many centuries, in many countries, in many civilizations. And it’s always worth examining what that means and what that costs.”

Will Lyman (CFA’71) plays Joe Keller, a loyal husband, father, and mainly, businessman. He owns a successful company that manufactures airplane engine parts. His wife is devoted to him, and his surviving son idolizes him, but there is trouble beneath the surface. Joe’s former partner is serving time for selling damaged cylinder heads, which may have caused the death of 21 pilots.

“Joe isn’t good, and he isn’t bad,” Lyman says. “He has a great sense of responsibility that he doesn’t always feel he is capable of living up to, and he compensates for his insecurities by being bullish and egotistical. But he has tremendous love for his wife and sons.”

The play opens on an August morning in 1946, when Joe’s son is hoping to propose to the daughter of his father’s former business partner. But because this is Arthur Miller, we know that hope and happiness have small chance of survival. Good will go bad, and bad will get worse, and it will all happen magnificently.

All My Sons isn’t a morality play,” Lyman says, “but it is a necessary one.”

All My Sons runs at the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., through Sunday, February 7. Tickets range from $20 to $82.50 and may be purchased online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the BU Theatre box office or at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion box office, 527 Tremont St., Boston. Patrons 35 and younger may purchase $25 tickets (ID required), and there is a $5 discount for seniors and military personnel. Student rush tickets are available for $15 at the box office two hours before each performance, and members of the BU community get $10 off (ID required). Members of the BU community are eligible for a special subscription rate. BU alumni attending Winterfest 2010 can receive a discount on tonight’s performance. Use code “Winterfest” when purchasing tickets. Call 617-266-0800 for more information.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

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