Potomac Playmakers hope 'All My Sons' heightens appreciation for veterans
Cathy James wants those who attend a production of “All My Sons” not only to get absorbed in the story, but feel a bond with the people whose history is intertwined with it.
The Potomac Playmakers’ production of the Arthur Miller play opens Friday, Nov. 10, at The Women’s Club in downtown Hagerstown. Set around World War II, James said it was fitting that the show is starting on Veterans Day weekend.
The Boonsboro resident is dedicating the productions — being staged at 8 p.m. Fridays, Nov. 10 and 17, and Saturdays, Nov. 11 and 18; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19 — to the veterans of Washington County. Attached to every seat in The Women’s Club will be information about a local veteran, some with photographs.
“I wanted to have a personal connection” for the audience, James said.
She has been gathering photographs, newspaper accounts and lists of area residents killed in World Wars I and II, as well as the Vietnam and Korean wars. Much of the material has been collected with the help of Jill Craig, digitization librarian at the Western Maryland Regional Library in Hagerstown, and from area senior citizens.
“Our vets sometimes get the wrong side of everything,” said James, whose father, John Whalen, was in the Navy, and father-in-law, John James Jr., was in the Army. Both now deceased, they served during World War II.
James wants to try to remedy some of the negativity experienced by veterans by putting faces and names to their stories.
The show she is directing — her first for the Playmakers — is based on a true story of an aeronautical plant in Lockland, Ohio, that produced engines for installation in U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft in the early 1940s. Some were defective, and as a result, three Army officers were convicted of neglect of duty.
“All My Sons” tells the story of Joe Keller and Herbert Deever, who ran a machine shop that made airplane parts. Deever was sent to prison because the plant created faulty parts, causing the deaths of 21 pilots, while Keller went free and made a lot of money.
Adding to the drama is the fact that the Kellers’ youngest son, Larry, went missing in World War II; his brother, Chris, is in love with Larry’s fiancée, Ann Deever; and his mother, Kate, can’t accept the relationship because she holds out hope that Larry will return.
“The mom does not like it,” Danielle Popp said of her character Ann’s relationship with Chris. “Mom believes that Larry is coming home and I was supposed to be Larry’s girl.”
Popp, 36, of Hagerstown, explained that the Deevers and Kellers are not feuding because of the different outcomes from the malfunctioning engines case, but rather, “there’s a major theme of deception and secrecy.”
“She holds the secret to whether Larry returns or not,” Popp said of Ann, keeping the secret under wraps.
Joining Popp in the cast are Richard Dobson, April Fox, Christine Miller-Grable, Barry Harbaugh, Jeff Marcum, Mandy Matvia, Nic Sigman and Jim Zuna.
Sigman plays Chris, who he said thinks his father can do no wrong and who never lives up to his father’s expectations.
“It was not as difficult as I thought it was going to be,” Sigman said of playing the part, explaining that he relates well to his persona. “It’s a pretty meaty role and I just wanted to dive in.”
Sigman, 35, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said the families in the show are relatable to most people because they’re not perfect, despite outward appearances.
“I feel like it will be super easy for the audience to connect,” Sigman said.
Popp said playing her first serious role has been a challenge, but a good one.
“It’s a lot tougher because there’s so much dialogue,” she said. “We play off each other really well,” Popp said of the cast members. “We literally cry every time we rehearse.”
The intensity of the play appealed to James.
“There’s just something about it. It’s a very complex play,” James said.
She said through the storyline, Miller addresses themes of greed and people’s responsibility to mankind.
“He poses a problem and he wants to show you what happens to all the people,” James said.
She is confident in the ability of the actors and actresses to convey the serious messages in the play. James said it’s exciting for her to be directing adults for the first time after 33 years of working with high-schoolers in Pennsylvania and Carroll County, Md.
“I think the acting is phenomenal, and I think the message is something that should be heard, even now,” said James, 66.
Those who fill the seats during the Playmakers’ productions are in for some surprises.
“I think the audience will be turned on their heads by the end of act three,” Sigman said.
Popp sees some sunshine amid the darkness of “All My Sons.”
“I think that the ending brings hope,” she said.