— Written by Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran
There was a buzz around the Matrix Theatre on the opening night of the play All My Sons, written by Arthur Miller, directed by Cameron Watson, and produced by Joseph Stern. The play brought up the themes of greed and the consideration of a world beside our immediate selves and family.
The play is set three years after a tragic decision was made, and portrays the consequences of a man who neglects his moral responsibility to the world. Three years ago, Joe Keller, the boss of a machine shop and the main protagonist of the play, and Steve Deever, the partner of Keller, decided to knowingly ship out defective machine parts during World War II. This decision results in the death of 21 soldiers and the imprisonment of Deever. The repercussions of this tragedy persist to three years later, when the Deever and Keller family must face the ugly truth of Joe’s actions.
One of the key points of this performance of the play was the multi-racial casting. In a play that typically features an all-white cast, this particular performance had a purposefully ethnically mixed cast: Joe is black, his wife is white, their son is biracial, the Deevers are Asian, and the neighbors are white and Hispanic.
“The cast is ethnically mixed and we cast the play specifically that way,” Stern explains.
Stern’s decision proved profound, as there was an inevitable mental debate on the reasons for this particular casting and the racial undertones and stereotypes that would cause for such casting.
A nearly innumerable set of ideas and theories were set up for debate.
In particular, what caught my attention was the casting of the Deever family as Asian. This is a play set soon after World War II. The Deever family suffered terribly from Joe Keller’s decision. This brings to mind the suffering of the Japanese citizens from the atomic bomb – a man-made machine of mass destruction.
This portrayal of suffering brought up issues with the model minority myth that continues to hurt the Asian-American and Asian Pacific Islander community. Throughout the play, the Deever family is persistently placed in this tension concerning the idea that everything is alright. They are obviously scarred from the events of the past, yet they are pressured to hide their anguish from a surrounding community who acts as if ignoring the past is the equivalent to erasing it. The Asian American and Asian Pacific Islander community is not an ideal community where no strife or poverty is felt. There are many members who are in need of assistance, yet the community continues to be portrayed as a hard-working group who can work hard, study hard, and eventually rise to a comfortable place.
Chris, the idealistic and honest son of Joe Keller, is bi-racial. This complements the struggle for some bi-racial people in establishing a full-fledged identity as two cultures merge. There is this sense of absolutes in society. Black. White. Asian. This strikes two points. One is the increasing appearance of interracial relationships within society. Another point is the tendency of society to lump the Asians all together into one group. The Chinese are different from the Japanese. The Japanese are different from the Koreans. This pertains to the differences between the French and the English, as well as the differences between the Spanish and the Mexican. There are multiple identities within this one group that continues to be lumped together. As Chris Keller struggles with his sense of place in the world, the diversity of the people in the community labeled as Asian-American is being neglected.
The play was an overall success. The cast decisions were able to successfully tie in racial themes into the spectacular blend of heart-gripping themes already present in the words Miller’s play.