ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
When Michael Woods takes the stage tonight in the first of four performances of Arthur Miller’s play, “All My Sons,” he won’t be looking so much to entertain members of the audience as to connect them with their own reality.
“I think that connection is what keeps people coming to the theater,” said the Tabor College junior from Wichita. “That is so captivating for me-something I so much want to bring to people.”
“All My Sons,” a production of the Tabor’s drama department, will be presented nightly at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, in the Theatre Lab, which is located in the lower level of the H.W. Lohrenz Building.
Woods will try to connect with the audience through the character of Joe Keller, a father who has driven himself to succeed for the sake of his family.
“He’s typical of Arthur Miller-the blue-collar working man,” Woods said of Keller. “He’s had a tough childhood and has picked himself up by the bootstraps and made something of himself.
“He’s endured a lot, but always kept his family central-and now he’s living in a pretty nice house and has established himself as a good businessman.”
Joe Keller and his wife, both in their 60s, lost one son in “the war” and have another son who wants to marry the fiance of his deceased brother.
“That’s kind of causing some tension in the household because there are some ghosts that still linger, especially in the wife’s mind. She can’t quite let go of her dead son.”
“Also, there are a lot of ghosts for the character I play, regarding some difficult decisions he made during war. Now they are coming back to haunt him.
“I would say in a nutshell, it’s kind of about social responsibility and what’s more important-the family or the universal picture of the world.”
The play is not light fare, Woods warned. And he doesn’t apologize for that.
“When people hear Tabor’s doing something, they ask me, ‘Are you in the play?’ and I say, ‘Yeah.’ And they immediately ask if it will be lighthearted and fun. I say no, it’s an Arthur Miller tragedy. And they automatically look at me and say, ‘Oh, it’s going to be depressing.’
“In my mind it’s only going to be depressing if you don’t empathize with the characters,” he said.
“What I’d hope for the audience is that they’d make that connection-that we’re all in the same boat with these kinds of situations. And that in such a terrible situation, there is hope and some way out of it. And when they walk away, they can feel a renewed sense that we can be better people as a result of seeing this.”
Although Woods said he enjoys performing lighthearted material, he knows works like Miller’s are important for the overarching purpose of theater.
“If we always paint the picture, ‘Is it going to be happy?’ I don’t think we’re serving art that way,” he said.
“It’s important for the theater department here at Tabor to present this kind of (serious) message. It may not be pleasant to look at it, but it’s something we need to look at.”
Woods said he’s had theater in his blood since the fifth grade, when for the first time he watched Jimmy Stewart perform in the movie classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
“I think the first day I rented it I watched it about eight times,” he said. “I was just captivated by it and I realized how he was able to send a message to me that a guy simply standing up in front giving a speech could not communicate as powerfully.
“I knew I wanted to be a part of that in some way.”
Woods said he has found ways to be involved in theater ever since-even though his military family moved around a lot. He said he always connected with community theater groups when possible and watched a lot of old and new movies.
“I keep trying to invest myself in (theater) because I saw something of value in there-and it was the one thing where people around me generally saw something I was good at.
“When I’m on stage, I’m able to stand up and do something I know I can do.”
Woods said his challenge in “All My Sons” will be to entice the audience to relate sympathetically with this man, who has become hardened by life.
“The main conflict is between the father and the son,” Woods said. “The son is the idealist, the one who believes you have to strive for what’s good and find the good in all.
“The father is the one trying to say, ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’
“When I first read (the play), I saw it through the eyes of the son,” Woods said. “But now I can understand both sides so easily. And I want convey that so that you can understand Joe-the Average Joe.”
Woods said he hopes to pursue a master of fine arts after graduation from Tabor, and then stay in acting “until God points me in a different direction, because this is what I love to do.”
He added: “I think acting for me is really the most fascinating and freeing thing I’ve ever done.”
The other cast members of “All My Sons” are: Casey Reece, Hillsboro; Talashia Yoder, Hesston; Rachel Pederson, Cimarron; Matt Insley, Hays; Caleb Dirks, Durham; Ellen Hathaway, Peck; Jillian Brown, Minneapolis; and Jason Phelps, Elk City, Okla.
Ticket prices are $3 for students and $5 for the general public. Seating is limited. To reserve tickets, call the Student Development Office at 947-3121, ext. 1033.