My latest foray into exploring the area’s community theater scene brings me down Route 50 to Bowie, Maryland, where in the woods at the far end of White Marsh Park there sits the cozy Bowie Playhouse, home of Bowie Community Theatre, currently making an impressive stab at Arthur Miller’s All My Sons through April 23.
Arthur Miller raised contemporary ethical struggles to the epic heights of Greek tragedy, putting characters like Willy Loman, Joe Keller, and Eddie Carbone on a level with Oedipus, Orestes, and the like. The fall of the House of Keller is no less relevant or tragic than the fall of the House of Atreus. In the heady optimism following World War Two, All My Sons — Miller’s first major success — came as a brutal slap in the face, a lone voice in the wilderness calling out the hypocrisy of so-called patriots who would readily betray their principles or their neighbors for economic gain while donning a thin veneer of public respectability.
Joe Keller is, at least by what we can gather at first glance, a beloved and respected figure in the community. He runs a successful manufacturing business and made a lot of money from government contracts during WW2. He’s a Gold Star father, having lost a son in the Pacific. He’s brought his other son, also a veteran, into the business. But this seemingly ideal family, as we learn, is held together with lies and secrets, and everything unravels over the course of a single fateful day with devastating consequences.
Bowie Community Theatre isn’t afraid to tackle the heightened emotions and tragic catharses of Arthur Miller’s script and does quite a creditable job of bringing the play to life. They have a ringer in the cast in Janet Constable Preston, as the Keller matriarch Kate, who brings emotional weight to a challenging role. Gene Valendo also impresses as Joe, presenting first as a genial, kindly patriarch but able to plumb those darker depths when provoked.
Director Fred Nelson gets solid performances from an ensemble of community theater regulars and amateurs. Anthony Cosgrove is a high school senior playing the thirty-something George Deever, but his confident and poised performance shows a wisdom and talent beyond his years. Melanie Wuertzer, in her first play, impresses as the venomous neighbor Sue Bayliss. Dana Fleischer and Thomas Donahue are an appealing pair of ingenues as Ann and Chris, also bringing the needed intensity in the latter acts.
The set — co-designed by Nelson, co-producer Alan Barnett, and David Chalmers (who delivers a solid performance as Dr. Bayliss) — accomplishes a lot with a little. Nelson also constructs effective sound tableaux that place us squarely in the right time period along with Cindy Andersen’s costuming and Sascha Nelson’s wigs and props.
Does the experience level of the cast make an impact? A bit. The emotional climax does slide into histrionics, rather like a firefighter with an out-of-control firehose. But they make a full investment of their energy into their performances, and Fred Nelson’s direction is subtle and supportive. All in all, it’s a solid community effort, and the ethical themes — just as relevant today as they were nearly 80 years ago — are no less haunting. BCT delivers a good night out.
Running Time: Two and a half hours with two intermissions.
All My Sons plays through April 23, 2023, presented by Bowie Community Theatre performing at The Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie, MD. Tickets (general admission, $22; seniors 62+ and students, $17) can be purchased online. Performances are not streamed.
COVID Safety: Masks are recommended but not required.