The Spotlight: Alex Morris and A.K. Murtadha in 'All My Sons'
In Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” self-made businessman Joe Keller doggedly denies accusations he sold defective airplane parts to the military during World War II. When the truth — and the true cost of his actions — is revealed, he risks losing everything, including the son who idolized him.
Alex Morris, who plays Joe in the current Matrix Theatre Company revival, says “I want people to see that he is a man. A family man who did what he thought was good for his family. It’s up to each of us to judge whether that was right or wrong.”
Morris’ and his cast mates’ ability to “hold a mirror up to humanity and show the humanness” — as A.K. Murtadha, who plays Joe’s son, Chris, puts it — earned acclaim when the production was first staged last fall and again during an encore engagement, which ends March 18.
The Matrix is presenting the ’40s drama with a multiracial cast — as part of a series of plays through which it is examining race in America. Thus, Joe is African American; his wife, Kate, is white; Chris is biracial and other characters are Asian American, Latino and white.
What’s the key to playing Joe?
Morris: I didn’t want to approach this in terms of an African American actor doing a play that most people see as a white play. I approached Joe as a complete human being. When we started rehearsing, [producer] Joe Stern and [director] Cameron Watson told us we should play these people as honest human beings, never mind the color of our skins. Play them as real-life people and everything grows out of that.
Murtadha: That honesty influences the reactions of the audience and the way we [the actors] respond to each other. When I step onto that stage, playing with Alex and with Anne Gee Byrd [Kate], it's easy to fall in love with them and be the kid who loves his parents. Which is what makes it so heart-wrenching at the end when my Dad says — I get choked up when I think about it — “Yes, OK, I did it. But I did it for you.”
How has the multiracial casting affected the show?
Morris: The first thing people bring up to me is, “How do you feel as an African American actor playing a role that is traditionally ...” and when they get to that part I stop them and say, “I am an American actor playing an American role, doing a classic American play.”
Once you realize that we have not changed one word, one setting, once you see the truth of the performances, we get into the real nuts and bolts of this thing…. A lot of people stay afterward and talk with us. And they are still in tears. I love hearing from them, especially those who know this play, who say, “Wow! I see it in a different light.”
Any significant changes in the production since last fall?
Murtadha: No. But I don’t think any good ensemble of actors comes in with the idea of saying, “Let’s do the same thing we did last time.” Instead, you say, “Let's try to grow, to deepen the relationships.”
This ensemble seem especially close.
Morris: When Joe Stern asked if we would be available to do it again, he wanted to know if everyone would be available. If we had lost one person, the rest of the cast may have thought, “Maybe not. Maybe we can’t do it.” Thank goodness it worked. For me, this is like putting on a nice old pair of shoes and falling in love all over again.
Photo: From left, Linda Park, A.K. Murtadha, Alex Morris and Anne Gee Byrd in the Matrix Theatre's 'All My Sons." Credit: Karen Bellone