Miller play tackles serious questions in dramatic fashion

PLAINVIEW – Dr. Marti Runnels has an up-front disclaimer about the next play being performed by Wayland Baptist University theatre:

“If you don’t want to see a play that could be depressing, then I’d stay away,” said Runnels, who serves as director of theatre and professor at WBU. “I don’t want people to think this is any less than a deep and heavy, thinking kind of play. It’s not an escape.”

That said, Runnels hopes all theatre connoisseurs will attend the show, because he believes the message is timeless and the work is brilliant.

Opening November 9 at WBU, All My Sons was not Arthur Miller’s first foray into play writing, and it is normally not hailed as his best work, bowing to Death of a Salesman. But Runnels said many fans of Miller prefer this piece, and most theatre historians agree it was this work that put Miller in the limelight as one of America’s best writers.

“His early work was abstract and a bit harder to understand, so he decided to write one that was clearer, thinking that at least audiences would understand it,” Runnels said. “For most of the rest of his life, he stayed in this predominantly realistic style.”

The new formula was a success not only in terms of audience understanding but also in terms of their appreciation for his talent and courage to tackle tough issues of life. Runnels said even his collegiate actors are grasping the importance of the play, and rehearsals have generated not only lengthy discussions about the subplot and themes but also a higher work ethic from his busy actors.

I truly am more excited about directing this play than any other I’ve done,” Runnels said. “It’s such an important play in the American theatre and I just think it’s brilliant. We’re fortunate to be able to tackle such a great piece of literature.” 

The play is set in just after World War II and involves two men who were involved in the airplane parts manufacturing business. Joe Keller got rich, while Herbert Deever was charged with producing knowingly faulty work and sent to jail. The play deals with what really happened at the factory and the confrontation of the families involved.

And while the setting may seem dated, Runnels assures audiences the message is quite relevant to today’s society.

“I don’t think the war connection locks it into the time period any more than Romeo and Juliet is locked into that time period,” he said. “This play deals with timeless themes like the American dream, finding real happiness and what holds a family together – the questions we all ask ourselves all the time.”

The play has generated a new excitement in the theatre department, Runnels believes, and has even resulted in a few students becoming theatre majors of late. He can appreciate that, since the excitement is likely coming from Runnels himself.

Ever since I saw my first Miller play, it deepened my appreciation for the theatre,” he said. “Then I read All My Sons and I wanted to have something to do with this play… be in it, direct it, whatever. I’ve never had so many actors say to me, ‘I’m so glad we have the opportunity to do this play.’ That means they see the value of it.” 

Though he’s been directing for years, Runnels said this production represents his first directing effort of Miller’s work, though he’s acted in a production of The Crucible. Chris Moore, technical theatre director at Wayland, has designed the set for the play, and Rachel Steed, a new theatre major, is stage manager.

The cast includes veteran WBU actors Peter Bourland in the lead role of Joe Keller and sophomore Rachel Morgan as his wife, Kate. Thomas Hoffman, junior theatre major, plays their son, Chris. Herbert Deever’s wife, Ann, is played by Mary Feril, senior theatre major, and his son, George, is played by Jordy Williams, a junior theatre major. Other cast includes Dr. Jim Bayliss, played by senior major Grant Jasper; Sue Bayliss, played by freshman newcomer Amanda Allen; Frank Lubey, played by freshman newcomer Jake Miser; and Lydia Lubey, played by freshman Sarah Buckland.

All My Sons opens Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. in the Harral Studio Theatre, with repeat performances on Nov. 10, 15, 16, and 17. Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for students. Reservations are available by calling the Box Office at 291-1089.