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Dispute over actors of color leads to ‘All My Sons’ director leaving Broadway revival

Director Gregory Mosher at the Kennedy Center in 2013. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)
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NEW YORK — A seasoned Broadway director has parted company with a forthcoming Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” because, he says, the late playwright’s estate declined to let him cast two black actors in a pair of sibling roles normally played by white actors. The dispute illuminates how the sincerest efforts at colorblind casting can sometimes spark creative rifts.

Director Gregory Mosher said in an interview that his association with the Roundabout Theatre Company revival — which will star Annette Bening and Tracy Letts and begin performances at the American Airlines Theatre on April 4 — ended after the Arthur Miller estate, overseen by his daughter, filmmaker Rebecca Miller, objected to the casting. Jack O’Brien, a Tony-winning director with a long Broadway résumé, is taking over, and the production will continue as scheduled, the theater said.

Roundabout officials said that in keeping with a mission of diversity throughout their season, there will be actors of color in “All My Sons” — just not in the configuration Mosher envisioned.

“Despite our shared commitment to having a diverse cast in our production of ‘All My Sons,’ Gregory Mosher and the Arthur Miller estate did not ultimately share the same vision of how best to achieve that,” Todd Haimes, Roundabout’s artistic director, said in a statement.

“They couldn’t agree on the specific casting choices that would lead to the richest-possible ‘All My Sons’ for 2019, and thus, Gregory Mosher has decided to step aside. We welcome Jack O’Brien as our director, and we’re looking forward to presenting his production of this Arthur Miller masterpiece this spring.”

For her part, Miller said in a separate statement that the issue was never about using actors of color, but that she was worried Mosher’s concept was “not fully thought out.”

“I am very excited to open my father’s work up to diverse casting,” she said. “Hence, an African American Loman family in [director] Marianne Elliott’s upcoming ‘Death of a Salesman’ in London, and [director] Rachel Chavkin’s upcoming multiracial ‘American Clock.’ ”

According to Mosher, who is chairman of the theater department at Hunter College in New York and directed shows including the original Broadway production of David Mamet’s Pulitzer-winning “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Roundabout’s leadership signed off on a plan to cast both brother-and-sister supporting characters, Ann and George Deever, as actors of color. He said it was only after Miller was apprised of the idea — and auditions were underway — that the dispute occurred.

“My understanding is that [Miller] thought it would prevent the audience from engaging with the play if it wasn’t historically accurate,” Mosher said. “We finally reached a point where we were not going to go ahead [together].”

“All My Sons,” set in 1947 Ohio, concerns the complicity of Joe Keller in the criminal manufacture of faulty airplane parts for the war effort, a crime for which his partner, Steve Deever, whom we never see, has gone to jail. Mosher said his plan was to cast Steve’s grown children, George and Ann — the latter romantically involved with Joe’s son, World War II vet Chris — with black actors.

“When Gregory suggested casting the Deevers as African American, I wanted to be sure the concept held water historically and thematically,” Miller said in her statement. She added that she worried Mosher’s casting “was in danger of white-washing the racism of 1947 suburban Ohio.” When she suggested that Mosher adopt a true “colorblind” approach — meaning opening all the roles to actors of any color — “Mr. Mosher rejected that idea and chose to leave the production.”

Permutations of colorblind, or nontraditional, casting are increasingly common in productions of all kinds across the country as well as on Broadway. How casting is determined for roles written traditionally for white characters remains highly subjective and, as the Roundabout situation underlines, is open to disparate interpretations. At Ford’s Theatre in Washington, for instance, a 2017 revival of “Death of a Salesman” featured a black actor, Craig Wallace, as Willy Loman and three white actors playing his wife and sons.

Casting plans for “All My Sons” remain unfinished, as O’Brien is just getting up to speed, Roundabout officials said, but it appears that the actor Mosher wanted for George Deever is still under serious consideration.

In the last Broadway revival of “All My Sons,” in 2008, George and Ann Deever were played by Christian Camargo and Katie Holmes. Mosher, who in 2009 directed a well-received Broadway revival of another Miller play, “A View From the Bridge” starring Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber, pointed out that a concurrent revival of “All My Sons” at London’s Old Vic, starring Sally Field and Bill Pullman, will have a multiracial cast. The two black actors in that production, however, are not appearing in the roles of George and Ann.