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'All My Sons': Miller's Message Still Applies


A manufacturer knowingly, or half-knowingly, sends out a shipment of defective aircraft parts that results in the death of pilots. What happens when the evidence of his malfeasance rebounds back to him and his family?

Are we talking about the Challenger spacecraft? No, but we might as well be. Beyond the shuffling of blame that goes on between NASA and the government and behind the solemn, official faces intoning for the TV camera "what steps are being taken to correct. . . ," etc., somebody knows what shortcuts were taken that later proved fatal.

A play that's almost 40 years old dealt with the same thing--what happens to people who are morally culpable but not legally responsible for a catastrophe. It's called "All My Sons," it was written by Arthur Miller and it opens at the Los Angeles Theatre Center's Bradley Theatre on Thursday (its last major L.A. production was at the Huntington Hartford in 1975).

Bill Bushnell directs. "I've been interested in doing Miller for a long time," he said, "and spent a lot of time wavering between this play and 'A View From the Bridge.' I chose this because of the timelessness of the family situation--father and mother, father and son.

"In the play, Joe Keller authorizes the shipment of cracked cylinder heads, which results in a number of P-40s going down the same day. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that that's an issue before us right now. The larger issue is how money corrupts when it becomes all-important. Like any tragic hero, Joe's fatal mistake comes out of love, not hate. What he did is typical of people who came out of the Depression, in the sense that what you did you did not for yourself, but for your children.

"Beyond the legal and moral question is a larger philosophical question: Do we live in a family, or do we live in a family of man? Joe's generation said, 'The business and family are everything.' But the guys coming back from the war had a different point of view. They said, 'There has to be more.' This is a very rich play."

Phillip Baker Hall, Nan Martin, Bill Pullman, Julie Fulton and Gregory Wagrowski are in the cast.

You go to a show with a certain range of expectations. Behind the scenes, however, it's a completely different story, which we've seen with "The Torch Bearers," "Noises Off," and now, with a new (to us) play by David French called "Jitters," opening Tuesday at South Coast Repertory.

"Jitters" has had more than 100 productions in Canada, and anyone who tries to describe it here collapses into instantaneous laughter, which is very nice for them, but bewildering for the listener. It took a call to French in Canada to try and straighten things out by way of introducing the play to us.

French, who is 47 (and had his "Saltwater Moon" produced by the SCR two years ago), spent a short time with the Pasadena Playhouse as an actor before embarking on a decade-long career of writing one-acts for the Canadian Broadcasting Co., thereafter establishing himself as a fully fledged Canadian playwright.

"Unlike 'Noises Off,' which is a farce about putting on a farce, 'Jitters' is a play about putting on a play," French said. "It's a comedy of character. Everybody's desperate to have a big hit in this new play they're doing. The first act deals with the first preview, the second with backstage on opening night, and the third is the day after the reviews have come out. Everybody's in desperate need of a success, from the writer and director to the older actress they've brought up from New York, who's trying to make a comeback. I like to think the success of this comedy is rooted in real behavior. A businessman came up to me after one performance and said, 'This is just like my board room!' "

Other openings for the week: Monday, "Kita Noh Theatre" at Japan American center, and the provocatively titled "Out of Gas on Lover's Leap" at Coast Playhouse (directed by Lee Shallat); Tuesday, "Tango Argentino" comes to the Pantages after its heralded run in New York; Wednesday, a Cuban play, "The Death of Rosendo," at the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts' Theatre/Teatro.

Jane Martin's "Talking With" at the Olio, opening Thursday, has an intriguing lineup of monologues. They include Brandis Kemp in "15 Minutes," Susan Barnes in "Twirlers," Grace Zabriskie in "Marks," Sandy Martin in "Clear Glass Marbles," Diana Bellamy in "Handler," C.C.H. Pounder in "French Fries," Linda Mellor in "Rodeo," Diane Delano in "Audition" and Susan Falcon in "Dragons." Sandy Martin, Robert de Frank, Charles Davis and Debra LaVine direct.

Sir Arthur Sullivan's recently discovered operetta, "The Zoo," opens Friday at Theatre West.

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