The Schwartz Center may seem like an innocent part of the Collegetown landscape, a building that you either walk by every day or have never seen before in your life. But unbeknownst to a majority of Cornell students is the theatre inside, which puts on a whole season of plays and performances. This year, the season is starting off with a monumental play written by the great American playwright, Arthur Miller. All My Sons, directed by Artistic Director and Inauguration speaker David Feldshuh, is entering its second week of performance this Thursday, and promises another weekend of stellar performances and standing ovations.
All My Sons is a play inspired by a true story, and is about the Keller family’s difficulty dealing with an accusation that Joe Keller, the father and figurehead of the family, sold faulty airplane parts during World War II. This play deals with the impact of moral decisions on family relationships. According to David Feldshuh, “Miller sees the world of this play as moral and those that violate this morality ultimately pay the price. The play has a number of themes including the power of unethical choices to haunt those that commit them, the temptation of money to promote greed particularly in times of war and the tendency for war to disrupt relationships and family.” It is a play that is accessible to an audience on many levels, and asks important and difficult questions.
In addition to receiving the first ever Tony for “Best Play,” this production offers an incredible cast to bring the play to life. The Department of Theatre, Film, and Dance was especially lucky to have guest actor Peter Michael Goetz come to Cornell to play Joe Keller. Long time friend of David Feldshuh and acclaimed Broadway, TV and film actor, he brings incredible talent and skill to the stage. His list of credits is long and impressive, and includes Willie Loman in Miller’s Death of a Salesman, several collaborations with other celebrities and guest appearances on Arrested Development and The West Wing.
Joining him on stage is an incredibly talented cast with Resident Professional Teaching Actors, Carolyn Goelzer, Tommy Demenkoff and Charles Goforth. These are professional actors that come to Cornell to teach for up to three years and perform in productions. In addition, the stage is graced by some of Cornell’s most talented undergraduate actors, Barrie Kreinik, Phil Mills, Emily Ranii, Reed VanDyke and Ashley Adams. Feldshuh talks about his cast, saying, “All My Sons is one of Miller’s great plays and the acting talents that have combined in this production make it particularly worth seeing. Peter Michael Goetz, one of America’s most experienced and skillful character actors, heads an exceptional cast of undergraduates and resident professional actors. If you want to see fine acting, this is a show that shouldn’t be missed.”
The experience of rehearsing and preparing the production was a rewarding one for the actors involved. Tommy Demenkoff says that this is his first Arthur miller play in 35 years of acting. “For me it’s an honor. His language is so direct and pertinent to what’s going on today. It’s so timely.” Barrie Kreinik, who has appeared several times on Cornell stages, describes working with David Feldshuh and Peter Michael Goetz. “It was wonderful working with David because he gave us the freedom to make discoveries in rehearsal while also shaping our performances in ways that would serve the script. It was a privilege to work with Peter — he’s a very generous actor, and even though he’s played Joe Keller several times before, he was patient with the rest of us as we explored our roles. Peter has said that even he discovered new things about the play while in rehearsal here, which speaks volumes about the depth and complexity of Miller’s script.” The cast arrived at Cornell over a week before classes started to begin rehearsals for the production. They rehearsed seven-hour days and then four hours each night once classes had begun to create the production that audiences saw last week and will see again this weekend. Tommy Demenkoff found that “the most valuable thing for [him] was being able to look at the history of our country, looking at what Joe Keller is and what he represents.” Kreinik finds that “Even now that the show has opened, I still discover something new about the play every time I go onstage, and that gives each moment the gift of seeming to happen for the very first time.”
When asked why people should see this play, Feldshuh responded simply. “At a time that mixes war and business, this play is particularly resonant.” The play is showing Thursday through Sunday at 8pm and Saturday at 2pm at the Schwartz Center in Collegetown. You can buy tickets there at the box office. According to Kreinik, “People should see this play because it will move them — that’s the reason to see any good piece of theatre!”