David Braucher likes to think that Joe Keller was a good guy who made a few bad decisions.
He suggests that Arthur Miller felt the same way, and he’s hopeful that the Hubbard Hall audience on hand to see Miller’s 1947 masterpiece, “All My Sons,” feels similarly toward his character as it exits the theater.
“Joe Keller is a great family man who was devoted to his sons, and his deepest desire was to hang on to the wealth he had acquired through all his hard work so he could hand that business and that wealth off to his son,” said Braucher, a New Jersey native and a New York City-based actor who recently moved to Greenwich.
“There’s a lot to like about Joe, and I’ve read about how Miller didn’t really think of the character as a criminal. When you look at it objectively, you have to say, ‘yeah, he’s a criminal,’ but I don’t think the guy sees himself as a wrongdoer. He was just trying to protect the family. That’s how I have to play him, and hopefully the audience will see that.”
For Gazette theater writer Matthew G. Moross's review of this show, click here.
A pay-what-you will dress rehearsal tonight at 8 p.m. kicks off the run, which will include 12 regular performances beginning with Friday’s official opening night and concluding on Sunday, April 25. The production is being directed by Allen McCullough of North Bennington, Vt., who said that despite Keller’s crime — he sold bad parts to the U.S. Army during World War II — it’s important that he be somewhat likable.
“He made some bad decisions, but it wasn’t a war crime and I think the character is sympathetic,” said McCullough, who has performed at Hubbard Hall in “Private Lives,” “The Real Thing” and “Playboy of the Western World.”
‘All My Sons’
WHERE: Hubbard Hall, 25 E Main St., Cambridge
WHEN: Pay-what-you-will rehearsal at 8 tonight, opens 8 p.m. Friday and runs through April 25. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $24-$15
MORE INFO: 677-2495, www.hubbardhall.org
“In bad circumstances, people make bad decisions. Joe is guilty, he is exonerated, and then he makes another bad decision. But that’s what is so great about Miller’s writing. All these people who might be basically good people have all these outside forces working on them and their lives become very complicated.”
“All My Sons” was Miller’s second play. The first, “The Man Who Had All the Luck,” was a dismal failure and closed on Broadway after just four shows in 1944. Miller reportedly said that if he failed again with his second play, he was “going to find some other line of work.”
“All My Sons,” however, was a huge success, winning three 1947 Tony Awards, the first year of that competition, as well as the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award over Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.”
“Seeing [‘All My Sons’] as a kid was probably what got me interested in becoming an actor,” said McCullough. “I kind of put it aside for many years, but when I picked it up again I was amazed at just how structurally sound it is. The story is so good and the characters are so well drawn.”
Braucher’s first exposure to Miller was when his high school drama club did a production of “Death of a Salesman.”
“I’ve been aware of Miller for decades and have loved his stuff, but working on this play has really been a wonderful experience,” said Braucher. “It’s been great fun to explore what he did with this play, and it’s also been great working with such a talented and brave bunch of people at Hubbard Hall. We’re taking risks here, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.”
Joining Braucher in the cast are Joan Coombs as Joe’s wife, Josh Bywater as his son Chris, and Melissa Herion as Ann, his daughter-in-law. For McCullough, the Hubbard Hall production of “All My Sons” is his first professional experience as a director.
“I am very happy being an actor, but I’ve pondered directing before as most actors do,” said McCullough, who was in the national touring production of “12 Angry Men” with Richard Thomas. “This is my first real gig as a director, and it’s been fascinating being on the other side of the table. It’s been fun to create a rehearsal experience that I would want to be part of as an actor, and to be able to work with such a talented cast. We’re really exploring the play together, and looking for new things that the story and the characters might provide.”
For Braucher, trying to gain insight into the psyche of Joe Keller has been a great ride.
“He came up from impoverished origins, was put to work at the age of 10 to earn his keep, and then made his way in the world, becoming very successful,” he said. “He wasn’t well-educated and he had to work hard all his life. When his one son dies in a plane crash during World War II, he becomes even more devoted to his other son. He brings the business through the Great Depression and then gets a lucrative military contract when the war begins. Then, because he’s so concerned about his family, he makes one bad decision and then another.”
When the play opens in the Kellers’ backyard, Joe has already made his two bad decisions.
“The story is about what the son believes and then what he finds out to be the truth,” McCullough said. “The focus of the story is about the dynamics between the four main characters, and they’re all fascinating people. The play also resonates today as a contemporary piece. We are a warring nation, and we continue to send off our best and brightest, and those of us who sit at home are usually disassociated from the reality of war and the costs to people and what it does to them. And, there are people who make money on war, just like Joe Keller.”