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.”
A Shakespeare comedy set in the 1960s? Yes, that is the show that our Theatre Department presented to large audiences last weekend!
Lysander (Vincent Matteson) and Hermia (Lindsay Lee)
Calvary students, alumni, faculty, and staff all worked together to bring A Midsummer Night’s Dream to life in this groovy form.
Demetrius (Tedd Williamson), Helena (Christy Stone), and Lysander (Vincent Matteson)
In fact, one of our adjunct Bible and Theology professors, Norm Baker, played Tom Snout/Wall.
Nick Bottom (Corey Ruehling), Frances Flute (Levi Bennett), Snug (Tori Roberts), Robin Starveling (Esther McRae), Peter Quince (Zeb Johnson), and Tom Snout (Norm Baker)
While the setting was changed, the script was still Shakespeare, and the actors did an admirable job of learning all those lines. The costumes were especially memorable and caused some actors to elicit laughter just by walking on stage.
Oberon (Tim McGuire), Titania (Amy Garlett), and Moth (Madison Greener)
The Mechanicals of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” witnessing the death of Pyramus and Thisbe!
One of the most notorious and uproarious comedic scenes in all of dramatic literature comes from “The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe” performed by the Mechanicals, a troupe of aspiring tradesmen come to perform at the marriage celebration of the Duke of Athens in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this picture, Pyramus (Bottom the Weaver, played by Corey Ruehling) and Thisbe (Francis Flute the bellows mender, played by Levi Bennett) have just expired in a heap in the bottom right corner while Lion (Snug, played by Tori Roberts), Peter Quince (played by Zeb Johnson), Moonshine (Robin Staveling the tailor, played by Esther McRae), and yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is indeed Norm Baker, CU Bible and Theology Prof, as Wall (Tom Snout the tinker).all watch the lamentable death!,
Norm caught the bug first in high school, but his talents have lain dormant until until a few months ago when he was asked to play the role of Martin Luther for a chapel scene on the Reformation. His appetite was once again whetted! He’s having an incredible time and has enjoyed getting to know students on a more casual basis while gaining a greater respect for the craft of acting. All we can tell you is Kenneth Branagh had better move over! You’ll have to see him to believe him, so make sure you’re there for Act V!
The production runs March 8-11. See you at the show!
Calvary Theatre Arts is proud to present William Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare’s Midsummer contains all the trappings of a counter-cultural environment, so in the spirit of reflecting that vibe, director Bobbie Jeffrey has chosen a 1960s mise en scene. As you can see from the photo – it’s gonna be groovy! There will be some tunes that are familiar to you; however, Soul Man Bruce Barrett is composing original music specifically for our show. Production run is March 8-11. For all the details, visit our box office: https://www.calvary.edu/theatre-box-office/
Tim McGuire as Oberon, King of the Aerie Band, and Amy Garlett as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, rock their 60s tie-dye!
The cast of Traveler in the Dark: (l to r) Christy Stone, Corey Ruehling, Jon Van Pelt, and Aaron Clabough
Calvary University Theatre presented four performances of Traveler in the Dark last weekend. With only four characters in the cast, each one had many lines to learn, and they did a terrific job! Of course, there were many people who had a part behind the scenes, and they each contributed to the success of the show. Corey Ruehling played Dr. Sam Carter, the play’s titular “traveler in the dark.” The other characters were his wife, son, and father, and the play is all about their relationships. Mrs. Pat Miller, our Biblical Counseling Department Chair, had this to say about the show, “What I like most about this play is the title! We are all travelers in the dark without the Light of the World – Jesus. We often lose our way and stumble in the dark. Only in the truth of God will we ever be set free.”
The Carter family: (l to r) Everett, Sam, Glory, and Stephen
Ana Sharp, CU Theatre’s first student lighting designer, at the board during our technical rehearsals last weekend.
Cast and crew alike spent most of last Saturday perfecting and running lighting and sound cues in technical rehearsals for Traveler in the Dark.. It was our technicians’ time to rehearse, and we guarantee the fruit of their labor will create a unified artistic whole when you come to see this challenging production.The show opens this weekend, October 12-15, with a Thursday matinee show at 11:00 a.m., a Friday and Saturday show at 7:30 p.m., and a Sunday matinee at 2:00 p.m.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman creates the world of a brilliant surgeon suddenly shattered by the death of his nurse. Sam tries to find a way to piece his life back together as he journeys with his family back to his boyhood home for her funeral. Once there, he’s confronted by the demons of his youth: the death of his own mother, his alienation from his fiery, evangelical preacher-father, his boyhood immersion in fairy tales, and his disillusionment with the woman he married. A deep crisis ensues, and Sam’s relationships with his wife, young son, and father, as well as his own direction in life, swing precariously in the balance. In the rejection of the faith of his father, he has also lost access to its light, and he discovers his journey as a traveler in the dark renders life difficult to navigate.