austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

See what we can be if we try

Last weekend as part of my mother's plan to make sure we never have an unscheduled weekend (my theory is she never really geared down from planning my sister's wedding) we went to Broadway to see Arthur Miller's All My Sons, the play he wrote with the determination that if this failed too he'd give up the play-writing business. But this was a success, as Miller had found a theme which really worked for him, the controversial assertion that war materiel manufacturers have a responsibility to society which goes beyond deliberately shipping defective hardware to the Army in wartime. Arthur Miller could go on to write often for Broadway and oftener for 10th Grade English class.

The play, as revived, I liked: John Lithgow played the father, cleared of his involvement for shipping defective airplane piston heads; as the action opens, his surviving son has brought his fiancee-by-letters back home. She's the daughter of Lithgow's partner, convicted for shipping the defective parts, and had been the fiancee of Lithgow's other brother, vanished off China years earlier and whom the mother refuses to give up hope on. So while the dialogue is very 1947 Arthur Miller Theatrical in its way, it's a plausible enough scenario with all sorts of messy emotional potential which does pay off.

I mention the dialogue as 1947 Arthur Miller Theatrical and I'm not sure how to characterize it more precisely. I could see, though, clear Metaphorical Implications in things like the neighborhood kids who think of Lithgow's character as a detective and themselves as beat police, the neighbor who works out horoscopes proving the dead son must be alive, the fiancee's brother not taking a drink from the mother, et cetera. The thing I kept trying to place and couldn't was the role of the other neighbor, who has a lot of stage time but seems to have only a slight metaphorical or symbolic role. I guess he symbolizes the neighborhood moving on from the late unpleasantness, but he seemed to be around more than he needed to be for that.

By an interesting coincidence the old-time radio turned up a Screen Directors Playhouse with a half-hour adaptation of All My Sons, with Edward G Robinson as the father. Obviously a two-hour stage play needs adjusting to fit into a half-hour audio-only presentation, but what struck me as fascinating was they took what had been Acts I and II and compressed them down to the expository delivery lump of the first five minutes. The neighbors were all dropped, but the convicted partner was brought in, and the process of the son discovering the Horrible Secret by dialogue and inference was turned into a jailhouse interview. It even messed up what was obviously a Symbolic Moment (the fiancee's brother refusing a drink at a critical moment becomes him being interrupted in the midst of dinner with the family) It did wonders at draining the tension and leaving a half-hour of Radio Melodrama Product instead. Screen Directors Playhouse was no Lux Radio Theater but you'd think they'd do better, particularly with such dialogue-heavy source material.

Trivia: Among the rumors current in Santo Domingo when Christopher Columbus was arrested in October 1500 was that he planned to steal Hisapniola from Spain and turn control of it over to Genoa. Source: The Last Voyage Of Columbus, Martin Dugard.

Currently Reading: An Outline Of Man's Knowledge Of The Modern World, Editor Lyman Bryson.


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