Talawa’s Artistic Director, Michael Buffong and Executive Producer, Christopher Rodriguez joined Bruntwood Hub writers to discuss successful dramaturgy and Michael’s approach to his forthcoming production of All My Sons
The Bruntwood Hub, a unique partnership between six leading theatres in the North, have been interested in exploring what makes a ‘big’ play; one that transcends the local and transitory aspects of time and place to become a universal and enduring part of the canon. Christopher used All My Sons as a perfect example of a play that is able to intertwine a number of stories to make a family drama contain societal and philosophical questions that make it forever relevant to humanity. Choosing specific flaws for his characters, antagonistic objectives between relationships and a world in which individual goals come into conflict with the State, Miller creates a drama that explodes the personal stories to a political level. Right down to the choice of a garden setting, Miller sets up a very public space for the deeply personal drama to play out so that the neighbours and outside world are always felt to impose on a struggle that might find a more peaceful resolution in a private space.
“Inner Conflict”: That which exists within a character, whereby needs and wants meet obstacles from within the psyche to complicate the achievement of their goals.
“Interpersonal Conflict”: Where the needs and wants of an individual preclude or antagonise those of another, so that they must compete with each other for dominance.
“Societal Conflict”: Where the codes and laws of the establishment operate as an obstacle to impede the expression or survival of the individual.
Within a ‘Great’ drama all of these conflicts are intertwined with inextricable links between characters, their relationships and the world in which they live work to magnify the problems at every level. As a playwright it is a useful tool to analyse your own work and dissect the brilliance of others’ to tease out the separate stories by labelling them alphabetically and tracing them from inciting incident to their conclusion.
SPOILER ALERT! Read on to follow a dissection of the various interlinked plots in Miller’s All My Sons
The ‘A’ story (heavily rooted in the story’s past—showing Ibsen’s influence on Miller): This begins with Joe Keller’s growing business during the war. Building engine parts for military planes makes him a fortune but presents a personal crisis when his process becomes defective. Faced with a choice, he seeks to hide this failure to save his life’s work, at the cost of pilots’ lives and the imprisonment of his business partner. The burning dramatic anticipation over whether past guilt will catch up with Joe drives the play’s tension throughout.
The ‘B’ story begins with the Keller’s son, Larry training as an Air Force pilot. Through doing so he becomes instantly beholden to the sense of brotherhood between pilots and, when the crisis of the ‘A’ story occurs, he faces a personal crisis over his sense of hatred towards his father and guilt for being the Keller’s son. As a result he takes his own life and the loss of Larry combines with Joe’s imprisonment to further complicate the Keller family’s tragedy.
The ‘C’ story is the love interest between the surviving son, Chris and his dead brother’s sweetheart, Ann Deever. This story is woven into both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ because Ann’s father took the fall for Joe’s choice in the ‘A’, and the impact on all family members from the ‘B’ story’s fallout presents a number of complex obstacles for Chris to overcome before marrying Ann, including his own sense of guilt, his father’s fear of the Deever’s hatred, and his mother’s inability to rectify her husband’s guilt with the death of her own son.
The ‘D’ story, and that which drives a sharp wedge into any chance of a peaceful resolution for all plot lines, is the looming presence of George Deever, the lawyer brother of Ann. George’s taste for vengeance is sparked by the ‘C’ story when Ann decides to marry the son of the man who imprisoned his father; the outcome of this plot line causes all secrets to be blown wide open and ensures a tragic end for Joe Keller that has loomed since the very beginning of the ‘A’ story.
Through this analysis one is able to see exactly how Miller manages to use universal human stories to explore major themes and monumental concepts such as the American Dream, guilt, greed and war, whilst asking the American people to face their own sense of righteousness over ‘winning’ a war that made some people very rich and cost a great number of lives.