Mrs. Rose Henness, Mr. Norm Baker, Dr. Luther Smith, and Ms Ana Sharp during the talkback
It is always an honor for Calvary’s Theatre Department to host interdisciplinary collaboration with our faculty around the themes of our productions. This year’s fall production, All My Sons, by 20th century American playwright Arthur Miller, is incredibly rich in content and even wealthier in its themes. Chapel on Wednesday, October 3, provided students and faculty with the opportunity of diving in! Following a scene from the play performed during theChapel, Calvary faculty, including Mrs. Rose Henness (Director of Institutional Effectiveness), Mr. Norm Baker (Bible and Theology), and Dr. Luther Smith (Biblical Counseling), joined senior Ana Sharp (dramaturg), director Bobbie Jeffrey, and the cast of CU Theatre’s All My Sons for a talk back.
Vincent Matteson as Chris Keller, Jon Van Pelt as Jim Bayliss, and Mallory Pihl as Ann Deever in a scene from “All My Sons”
Discussion was filled with the following highlights:
Dr. Smith, Mrs. Henness, and Mr. Baker all recommended students attend the play. The literature was new to all of them and had them turning its pages at a rapid rate!
Mrs. Henness spoke about the dysfunction of family secrets and how destructive they are.
Dr. Smith mentioned that theatre is often a vehicle for truth that reaches people other methods cannot.
Bobbie Jeffrey, Theatre Arts Department Chair, spoke to the tragic elements in All My Sons and why studying tragedy as a literary genre is important
Ana Sharp not only shared information about WWII survivors’ battle on the homefront with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but connected it to the U.S. Government’s decision to hide its effects rom the public.
Levi Bennett as Frank Lubey and Mallory Pihl as Ann Deever
Students tweeted in questions which were moderated by John Oglesby, our chapel spokesperson. One of the favorite interactions of the talkback had to do with a section of dialogue from the play referring to drunkenness. A question was asked about the Christian stance on this subject. Dr. Smith immediately raised his hand for the mic: “Alcohol good; drunkenness bad,” to which Mr. Baker added, “Ditto.”
Vincent Matteson and Corey Ruehling as Joe Keller
The discussion was animated and lively, and was an example of what academic theatre does best. Join us this weekend to get even more! Optional talkbacks with select faculty, director, cast, and crew will be held after every performance, and it would be our honor to have you join us. Tickets are now on sale: https://www.calvary.edu/theatre-box-office/
Callie Weeks, student set designer for All My Sons, couldn’t have been happier as she watched the disparate pieces of her set come together last Saturday during what is known in the theatrical world as “load-in.”
Everything that had been painstakingly built and painted at our set construction site in the Special Events Building was loaded up and driven over to the loading dock outside the back of the Chapel on Friday afternoon. Friday night the lighting instruments were hung, and Saturday, staggered crews came in to assemble the set. The backyard of the Keller home slowly began to take shape over the course of the day. You can see pictures of the metamorphosis below.
We have a week of rehearsals left, followed by technical rehearsals on Saturday. Then we have three dress rehearsals to implement all our technical cues plus costuming, hair, and makeup. Once that’s done, it’s curtain up October 11-14.
It’s a crazy idea, right? Exegesis and hermeneutics in theatre? Well, yes! The same principles apply and are almost as rich in the study of theatre and production of plays as they are in the study of the Bible and the story of our lives! Our fall production, All My Sons, by Arthur Miller, has been rich in something known as dramaturgy. What better way to share with you the principles of dramaturgy than to introduce you to Ana Sharp, our own exegetical and hermeneutical dramaturg.
Here are Ana’s responses to my interview questions:
How do the terms exegesis and hermeneutics apply to theatre?
In theatre, as in the Christian walk, we are faced with the task of making choices based on a text we may not fully understand. Dramaturgy, like theology, is a field built around a premise of high respect for a text and its author. Dramaturgs and other theatre artists strive for an accurate exegesis (interpretation of the text), and with every play we need to choose the right hermeneutic (strategic approach).
All My Sons requires a historical-literal hermeneutic much like we would use for the gospels. The more we know about the historical events, culture, and world surrounding the events of the story, the better we understand what the author wanted to communicate and, by extension, the better we can communicate the author’s intent to the audience.
How does good dramaturgy help cast, crew, and director of a production?
The historical setting, moral themes, and story structure combine to form what we call “the world of the play.” Every design choice, every directing choice, and every acting choice is informed by the world of the play. All My Sons takes place in a world where honesty matters, and every choice has far-reaching consequences, beginning with one’s closest relationships and extending to people one has never met. It also takes place at a specific time (August of 1946) in a specific place (Ohio, USA), and in a neighborhood of a certain income level.
Dramaturgy is digging into every detail the playwright gives us in order to firmly establish the world of the play in the minds of the artists creating it onstage. Good dramaturgy contributes toward solid acting choices, informed directing decisions, and a unified storytelling effort on the part of the design team.
Why is excellent dramaturgy particularly important to this year’s fall production, All My Sons?
Arthur Miller, playwright
First and foremost, this play deals with a war that really happened, and pain that millions felt. Arthur Miller wrote with compassion and sensitivity to the humans wounded physically or emotionally by World War II. They were his first audience. We have the honor of telling this story in the 21st century, and the least we can do to honor the sacrifices of that generation is to put the world they lived in on stage as accurately and respectfully as possible.
The P-40 Warhawk, a WWII plane at the nexus of the conflict of “All My Sons”
All My Sons is a story that was very pointedly written for its time. Its message is timeless and forever relevant, but its setting requires some translation. The show was set in the “present day” when it first opened in 1947. Its first audiences would have needed no introduction to the social and political climate of the time—they were living it! 71 years later, however, the events and sentiments surrounding the story of the play are more obscure to us. Themes of integrity and honesty will always resonate, but what are Post Toasties? Who are the Gumps? Dramaturgy for this show is heavily focused on helping the cast and crew understand the world of 1946, so they can deliver every nuance of the story to the audience.
Could you share with us All My Sons dramaturgical connection to Greek tragedies?
Absolutely! Without revealing too many spoilers, All My Sons conforms to the structure of antique tragedies such as Oedipus Rex or Antigone. A tragic hero with a fatal flaw makes a single huge mistake and eventually has to face the consequences of that choice and do their best to right it and bring their world back into balance. All My Sons even conforms to Aristotle’s “three unities” of time, place, and action. The events of the play take place within a 24-hour period (unity of time) in one location (unity of place), and everything that happens on stage feeds into the eventual crisis and climax of the play (unity of action).
What’s your favorite dramaturgical tidbit from researching All My Sons?
Aside from absolutely geeking out over the classical tragedy parallels mentioned above, I’ve immensely enjoyed reading the old comic strip “The Gumps” which is mentioned in the show. The style of humor is fun to compare to modern meme culture. The more things change, the more they stay the same!
Join us for an exegetical, hermeneutical, incredibly moving experience! Tickets are on sale now!
From right to left: Mallory Pihl, Christy Stone, Elijah LePage, Corey Ruehling, Vincent Matteson, Jon Van Pelt, Rebekkah McIntosh, Callie Weeks, Levi Bennett, and Zeb Johnson
While you were finishing your Labor Day picnic, the dedicated cast of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons began an intense rehearsal process. With just five and a half weeks to mount a full production, the process is demanding. Actors will be off book by September 24; however, eight-year-old Elijah LePage in the role of Bert already has his down!
The play is set in post-WWII 1947 middle America and won two Tony awards, one for Best Author (Arthur Miller) and another for Best Director (Elia Kazan). It was Miller’s first success. The action centers around the Keller’s backyard as a terrible secret is slowly unraveled through the course of the action. The Keller family is composed of Junior Corey Ruehling as Joe Keller, patriarch of the Keller family; senior Christy Stone, plays his wife, Kate; and their son Chris is played by junior Vincent Matteson. Elijah Page as the friendly neighborhood kid Bert is joined by Chris’ girlfriend Ann Deever (Junior Mallory Pihl), Ann’s brother George (Junior Zeb Johnson), neighbors Jim and Sue Bayliss (Jon Van Pelt and Callie Weeks) and Lydia and Frank Lubey (Rebekkah McIntosh and Levi Bennett).
Tickets are now on sale, and they’re easy to get! See details below…
All My Sons is an American tragedy. It’s the story of a post-world War II family caught in a cycle of greed and deception; it’s the story of a terribly flawed patriarch who hides a terrible choice that holds devastating consequences for the family he desperately loves.
From Sophocles to Shakespeare, tragedies have been events for the masses who watch them collectively and process them experientially, perhaps even cathartically. The target market of the Greek tragedy was the aristocracy, but the groundlings of the Elizabethan Age paid a hard-earned penny to arrive in eager droves to see Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. The unified experience involved a tragic hero with a tragic flaw who left on an epic journey, often begun with an invocation to the gods. At the end there was personal revelation with terrible consequences. And there was death. So what is the appeal of a tragedy?
First Corinthians 10 may shed some light:
10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea;2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;3 and all ate the same spiritual food;4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up toplay.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (New American Standard Bible)
These things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved…these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. The apostle Paul is very specific: Old Testament stories, tragedies in literature older than the Golden Age of Greece, are poignant signposts pointing us to the narrow way; Achan’s horde under the floor, the Golden Calf, David and Bathsheba, Joseph and eleven jealous brothers, Jacob and his deceptions, Lot’s wife and her over-the-shoulder farewell to Sodom and Gomorrah are some of the more dramatic among them.
Joe Keller, the protagonist of All My Sons, could have been a character pulled right off the pages of Genesis and plopped into a 20th century script. He was laid low in his own wilderness, very much as the Children of Israel were laid low in theirs. The original travelers never made it to the Promised Land. We know from Scripture the nation of Israel learned the hard way at every turn of their journey; so did Joe Keller. Joe Keller could have learned by taking the narrow way, which is in the end, the easy way of choosing the easy yoke of the One who wrote the story.
So, we circle back to the original question: what is the appeal of tragedy? At the end of any tragedy, I find myself left with two reactions. First is the stark revelation of senseless waste; a different moral choice would have sent the characters on a vastly different trajectory involving far less pain and far more nobility. Then, the collective sigh of relief: there but for the grace of God go I.
This is exactly the choice Joe’s son Chris is presented with at the end of the play. Chris and Kate, Joe’s wife, hear an offstage gunshot after Joe understands for the first time the consequences his actions have had. The result? No spoiler: a terrible tragedy. Kate is all too aware of the dilemma her son now finds himself in:
CHRIS: Mother, I didn’t mean to…
KATE: Don’t dear. Don’t take it on yourself. Forget now. Live.
Chris is in danger of making exactly the choice his brother and father did. Kate, in the rarefied air of the final moments of the play, understands this completely, and her love and imperative to her son ultimately pull him from the edge of the abyss.
How this moment is staged is completely up to the director, and it has everything to do with whether this play is merely the audience’s observation of senseless waste or something that challenges us to higher moral ground. As a director, I would, of course, choose the high ground; what my eye already sees is hope. The end result of a well-crafted tragedy has to offer hope for a better world inhabited by people whose trajectory moves us closer down the path toward our Maker.
All My Sons is far more than a cautionary tale. Any piece of literature with a universally true thematic statement is timeless. It tells us our choices matter, and we owe our integrity not only to God, but to the brotherhood of all humanity. That truth speaks to us perhaps even more strongly now than it did to the first audiences of post-war 1947. We find woven in the pages of All My Sons an object lesson of “instruction to us on whom the ends of the ages have come.”