Missing in action. A play is greatly fortunate when it receives a performance better than it is. The current revival of Arthur Miller’s family drama from 1947, All My Sons, needs that kind of help. You hear hollow echoes throughout of socialist catch phrases and pat Depression-era notions about the working Joe as mythic hero. Money stinks. Bosses are glint-eyed bastards. In the Soviet system such virtuous cant was backed up by totalitarian terror: if you didn’t write a paean to the crews who built a new dam in Omsk, the secret police were ready to stimulate your inspiration with a midnight visit. Miller wanted to be a good leftist and a great writer at the same time. We can be thankful that his artistic ambitiousness won out. Otherwise, All My Sons would be like a Christmas pudding studded with thumbtacks — as it is, the action stops for mini sermons on one-worldism, war profiteers, the corrupting decay of capitalism, and so on. Finger wagging isn’t helpful when you aim to be the working-class Sophocles. Who cares if Oedipus paid his charioteer a decent wage at the crossroad to Thebes?
Arthur Miller’s earliest play to run on the Broadway stage, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), began in the form of a novel – his student, friend and biographer Christopher Bigsby tells us in his pre-show talk on January 20. Over the course of four years, Miller wrote several drafts, unsure how best to present his themes; through which medium? through which plot? should there be an enlightened redemption or a tragic fall for his hero? From 1941 he began working the “fable” into a play. In late 1944 it arrived at the Forrest Theater, where it ran for three days and four performances before being called off the stage, a failure, though recognized by many critics as a promising indication of good work to come.