Director David Esbjornson Brings Miller's Mature Vision to an Early Play
All My Sons, which premiered in 1947, was written by a relatively unknown Arthur Miller, a man with one flop to his name. The typical biography reads that this play established the writer who created arguably the most important American play — Death of a Salesman — a mere two years later. Miller then goes on to write The Crucible, stand up to Joe McCarthy, wed and divorce Marilyn Monroe, and then...the story peters off. That “typical” biographical sketch glosses over the disciplined, arduous development of Miller as a young writer as well as his life-long pursuit of excellence in theatre. Miller had been writing stage and radio plays for eleven years before All My Sons became a hit. His career spanned seven decades.
An aging artist is something of an embarrassment in American culture. An angry, young man vigorously shaking up the establishment makes for good copy. Take a moment to picture Miller. Around which image does your memory of the greatest American post-war dramatist crystallize? Standing with Marilyn Monroe in a black and white photo? Testifying before HUAC? It’s a good guess that you are picturing Miller sometime in the sixties; however, Miller worked until the last days of his life in 2005, often collaborating with director David Esbjornson who will come to Boston to helm the Huntington’s production of his first hit, All My Sons.
In reviving All My Sons, how best do we encompass and honor the entirety of Miller’s dramaturgy, early to late? For this production, Esbjornson will direct this early work with an eye toward the writer that Miller became. Esbjornson garnered a Tony Award nomination for The Ride Down Mt. Morgan in 2000, and in conversation, he emphasizes that Miller remained interested in pushing the envelope his entire life. Because it is familiar, one forgets that Death of a Salesman uses an unconventional approach to form and staging. The Ride Down Mt. Morgan includes surreal fantasy sequences and jumps around in time. According to Esbjornson, Miller remained very open to alternative ideas from his collaborators, and welcomed new interpretations of his work as long as they were respectful of his original intentions. How will these conversations influence the Huntington’s production?
The life’s work of a writer doesn’t begin or end; it develops along a continuum, one play informing the next and the next play also informing the previous. It’s tempting to look back at All My Sons as not only a great play, but as a shining moment of great potentiality; however, to do so denies the reality of the man who grew and shrank and grew throughout his life, just like the rest of us. Our goal is to close the circle a little bit on this great dramatist and restart the conversation about him now that we know how Miller’s story ends.
— Lisa Timmel