Arthur Miller

All My Sons Directed by Taylor Kellar

Director Taylor Kellar has reimagined Arthur Miller’s All My Sons for the twenty first century. Not only did this director choose to present this masterpiece on a virtual platform, Ms. Kellar took creative liberties with the playwright’s description of the show’s time period. Arthur Miller set his 1945 work in “August of our era.” Ms. Kellar transformed America during the Second World War into:

The great America Donald Trump promised us. We are set back to an era where women were property to man, human beings were restricted of rights, and you had a problem with a neighbor who wasn’t the same skin color as you.

The director modernized Miller’s characters. As she explained in the playbill:

What if the Kellars were a heavily Republican family? MAGA ran in their veins – hence Larry’s choice to serve in the military? What if Joe finally saw the errors of his evangelist ways, hence his decision to sell faulty parts, even if that meant putting lives at risk? What if the Deever family were black? What if Kate Kellar had implicit bias, not only having problems with her (Annie) dating her elder son Larry, but then again choosing to pursue Chris—so she blames it on the infidelity and not because of an interracial couple? Why would Joe Keller, a white man, be exonerated over Steve Deever, a black man? What if Chris was a member of the resistance, yet constantly lives in white guilt?

Quite an original interpretation of Mr. Miller’s work. Your correspondent witnessed the virtual performance on Saturday, June 13th.

In addition to the play’s larger themes, Mr. Miller included a serious family drama. Kate Kellar (played by Bridget Reilly Beauchamp) refused to accept that her son Larry had been killed during his military service. Joe Kellar (Greg Northam) and his son Chris (Joe Godley) struggled to deal with Mrs. Kellar’s non-acceptance. They described her as being “ill.” The situation became more complicated when Chris became engaged to Larry’s former fiancée Ann Deever (Danielle Lee James).

Ann also happened to be the daughter of Steve, an associate at Joe’s manufacturing company. Steve received a prison sentence for shipping faulty cylinder heads to the US military. The latter having caused the deaths of 21 pilots.

The story became even more tense when Steve’s son George (Elijah Jones) arrived. He had just visited with his father in prison. George informed Ann of some information his father shared with him. This news had the potential to destroy the Kellar family.

Drama this intense required some solid actors to bring it to the stage; or cyberspace in this case. Ms. Kellar selected an excellent team to animate her unique take on Mr. Miller’s story.

Greg Northam delivered a sobering performance as Joe. He captured the multiple facets of this complex character. Mr. Northam portrayed a man submerged in a world of denial and moral relativism. He displayed the same assurance while defending Steve from charges of being a murderer as he did when explaining his own reprehensible actions. His conniving assault on Steve’s character when talking to George gave an insight into Joe’s true personality.

Joe Godley brought passion to the role of Chris Keller. He expressed his character’s feelings for Ann with tenderness. During his heated exchange with Mr. Jones he, captured the Chris’ transition from incredulity to doubt. Mr. Godley’s cynical declaration that he had become “practical” concretized his character’s change.

Bridget Reilly Beauchamp performed an outstanding Kate Kellar. Her passionate expressions that Larry would still come home showed that her character believed it. Her declaration that if Larry didn’t come home, “we killed him” showed Kate’s complexity. Ms. Beauchamp delivered a moving monolog about a dream about her son and the destruction of “his” tree.

Danielle Lee James portrayed an excellent Ann. Her warm voice well suited the character. She performed gripping interactions throughout the evening. Ms. James brought out the tension in the conversations with Ms. Beauchamp regarding Larry’s death. The performer showed coyness in response to Mr. Godley’s advances. Ms. James shared a tense conversation with Ms. Croce regarding Chris’ idealism.

Elijah Jones delivered an inspired performance as George Deever. Mr. Jones displayed his character’s anger over the injustice committed against Steve. The performer’s sly eye squint showed it. He also brought out George’s heartbreak over Lydia’s (Chelsea Best) marriage to Frank (Antonino Baldasari). The way he declined Lydia’s invitation to meet their three children showed George’s misery.

Lisa Croce added her trademark comedic quips to the show. In the role of Sue Bayliss, she commented, “I should have been a woman. Men are always introducing me to beautiful women.” Ms. Croce expressed an emphatic “please” when asking Dr. Jim Bayliss (Josh Keiter) to take a phone call.

Not even virtual performances are immune from the unexpected. Ms. Beauchamp’s dog made a cameo during one of her scenes. At least that was how it seemed in real time. The canine may have served as a clever bit of foreshadowing for Joe’s speech on a “great big dog.”

The production team presented All My Sons as a “fundraiser for groups fighting for social justice.” A list is available on the Facebook page: Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS Virtual Reading.

Ms. Kellar observed that: …the themes of guilt and blame, justice and judgement, lies and deceit, morality and ethics, and courage are still relevant in Trump’s America, maybe more so. Her interpretation of All My Son showed just how trenchant that interpretation is.

The Crucible at Haddonfield Plays and Players

Boy did I pick the right time to listen to Black Sabbath on the way to the theatre. “Voodoo”, “Lady Evil” and “Black Sabbath” put this reviewer in right frame of mind to experience The Crucible. The cool autumn air along with the full moon weaving through the breaks in the overcast sky added superb ambiance. I attended the opening night performance on October 11th at Haddonfield Plays and Players.

Director Pat DeFusco selected an excellent show to follow up HPP’s 24 Hour Play Festival. Mr. DeFusco also directed that performance in which a number of writers crafted tales applicable to Twilight Zone episodes. It seemed appropriate that he would select Arthur Miller’s 1953 masterpiece The Crucible for his next endeavor.

In 1960 Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling developed his short story “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Avenue” into one of the series’ most memorable and chilling episodes. A power outage drove the residents of a suburban community into a state of madness, fear and paranoia. Their mania drove them to accuse one another of being the source of the anomaly. The horror in that piece didn’t lie in the supernatural, but in the way ‘normal’ people treated one another in the wake of an unexplainable event. Apply that premise to the seventeenth century and one has the world of The Crucible.

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible to draw parallels between the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s and the McCarthyism he experienced during the 1950s. While lacking in historical accuracy, the play made for some gripping theatre. It brought audiences uncomfortably close to a world of ambition, greed and selfishness exacerbated by suspicion.

For a settlement predicated upon deep religious convictions, the Massachusetts Bay Colony sure contained a host of unscrupulous characters.

Nick French played an exceptional Reverend Parris. Mr. French performed like a man possessed…with a gift for acting. The method with which he enacted the character’s quick temper brought out the reverend’s demons. Mr. French’s vocal inflections captured Parris’ anxiety over losing his job due to the ‘bewitched’ girl in his household. I also enjoyed the animated way he argued over the wages and firewood the congregation owed him. Mr. French’s portrayal allowed me to understand why so many of Salem’s residents were skipping services on Sundays.

Grace Narducci played 17 year old Abagail Williams. Ms. Narducci made Abigail into the embodiment of evil itself. Ms. Narducci’s facial expressions captured the malice lurking behind her character’s eyes. She also demonstrated Abigail’s duplicity just as believably. The performer entered into a frenzy of trembling and shaking while being attacked by spirits. They always seemed to strike her at the most opportune moments. Ms. Narducci’s convincing performance showed Abagail capable of the horrific things she did. Bravo and a belated Happy Birthday to Ms. Narducci.

The Putnams made for an interesting couple. Gary Werner portrayed landowner Thomas Putnam. The character stood to acquire land from someone he accused of witchcraft. His wife, Ann Putnam (played by Andrea Veneziano), accused a midwife of witchcraft due to several of her children dying in childbirth.

And then there was Judge Danforth (played by Robert Bush). Reverend Hale (played by Taylor Brody) asked him to postpone the executions of seven people convicted of witchcraft. The judge opted not to because, to paraphrase using modern parlance: “We’ve already executed 12 people. If we let these people live it would look bad.” That’s an extreme way to make a decision based on sunk costs.

Even had the witch trials never occurred one suspects 1690s Salem still would have provided ample fodder for playwrights.

To balance this company of the conniving, Mr. Miller included noble characters.

Justin Walsh delivered an outstanding portrayal of John Proctor. The character endured a conflict between the man he was and the man he wanted to be. Mr. Walsh concretized it brilliantly through his interactions with Ms. Narducci and Marissa Wolf.

Taylor Brody portrayed the change in Reverend Hale very well. While first a proponent of the witch trials, his doubt grew as they progressed. Mr. Brody showed the character’s development in a very measured way.

Marissa Wolf played an outstanding Elizabeth Proctor. Ms. Wolf demonstrated the torment her character experienced over both a troubled marriage and the fear she’d be accused of witchery. The performer selected exceptional facial expressions and modulated her voice with extraordinary skill all evening. Her enactment of her character’s inner strength during the show’s final moments was without peer.

This summer I watched Marissa Wolf deliver a powerful soliloquy during a production of The Laramie Project at the Maple Shade Arts Council. With the final scene in The Crucible, Ms. Wolf showed she can express thoughts just as compellingly without words.

Mr. DeFusco has a reputation for producing work of the highest quality. Even by that standard, The Crucible featured fantastic direction.

The opening captured the audience’s attention. While Tituba (Salina Nicole Miller) and the girls of Salem danced in the woods, a fog machine generated a ghostly mist that enveloped the stage. The background projection of a forest at dusk with a small fire in the foreground added to the eerie ambiance. Mr. DeFusco’s decision to have Reverend Parris enter the through the aisle aided in bringing the spectators into the story.

The trial scene burned like white heat. Mr. DeFusco still enhanced the intensity. Mr. Walsh and Ms. Narducci gave each other looks of unvarnished hostility while walking past one another. This brief incident was both well-conceived and well-performed. It made this pivotal scene even more dramatic.

The distress in the story required performers to cry on stage. Sarah Dolhansky’s character (Mary Warren) played the majority of these emotional incidents. Ms. Dolahnsky’s performance brought out the fear and torment tearing at her character.

Mr. Miller wrote late-seventeenth century verbiage and syntax into the script. The entire cast deserves credit for navigating this challenging dialog. The performers also managed to deliver it in ways so that I could understand its meaning.

Justin Mead designed authentic period costuming for this show. He demonstrated solid attention to historical detail with the buckles the reverends and judges wore on their shoes.

I’d also acknowledge Tami Funkhouser for her portrayal of Rebecca Nurse. Ms. Funkhouser’s make-up was marvelous. When she first appeared on stage I didn’t recognize her.

The Crucible contained an extensive cast. Other members included: Emma Scherz, Salina Nicole Miller, Sophia Frances, Rachel Aspen, Cassidy Scherz, Sera Scherz, Sabrina Gipple, Rebecca Kaserkie, Penelope Incollingo, Joe Sweeney, Kristine Bonaventura, Sheila McDonald, Doug Cohen, Julieann Calabrese, Tina Currado, Melynda Morrone, Tony Killian, Peter Tancini, Kacper Miklus, Ben Morris, Jeremy Noto, Dennis Dougherty, and Olivia Bee Sposa.

The following individuals completed the production team: Artistic Coordinator Nicole DeRosa Lukatis, Producer Sue C. Stein, Stage Manager and Light Board Operator Omi Parrilla-Dunne, Lighting Design Chris Miller, Properties Anna Diaczynski and Donna Scherz, Set Construction Mike Snyder. In addition to directing, Pat DeFusco served as Artistic Director, Set Designer, Sound Designer and Engineer.

When first performed The Crucible provided disturbing commentary on the Salem Witch Trials with latent parallels to McCarthyism. Is it still relevant sixty-six years later?

Last October your correspondent attended a three part lecture series on the Salem Witch Trials. Mickey DiCamillo, the President of the Historical Society of Moorestown, delivered them. Mr. DiCamillo explored the socio-political dimensions of this disturbing episode in American history. He explained that three elements led to the trials: Puritan society was divided into many factions, a rampant belief that the government lacked the capability to govern and what he termed an internal “fear factor.”

During The Crucible Judge Danforth asked those accused: “Have you seen Satan?” This reviewer saw him in most of the characters portrayed on stage. To quote a Black Sabbath lyric:

When you listen to fools

The mob rules.

 The Crucible runs through October 26th at Haddonfield Plays and Players.