The hard times of the past will shed light on today’s economic woes when MSU presents Arthur Miller’s panoramic, little-known saga, “The American Clock.”

A huge ensemble of 30 students from MSU’s Department of Theatre will perform in Miller’s Depression-era saga at the MSU Auditorium Arena.

Tony Caselli, artistic director for the Williamston Theatre, will direct.
While researching the play, Caselli sometimes felt that all he had to do was look around. “People are losing their homes,” he said. “People are out on the street because of the whole real estate housing issue.”

Based on Miller’s own experience and the writings of working-class chronicler Studs Terkel, “The American Clock” follows a variety of families, businessmen, farmers and young people as they try to get by. Its collage of settings and plots covers many walks of life and strata of society in America.

“This chorus of people are fragments and ghosts from the Depression who’ve gotten together to share these stories with us now, to say ‘this happened before and we got through it,’” Caselli said.

Unfortunately, when it was first produced,  “The American Clock” was not received well, closing on Broadway after only 23 performances in 1980. Caselli suggested that the play’s ambitious layering of history, ideology and personal stories might have contributed to its failure, but thinks that same ambition will make it appealing to modern audiences.

Miller, but it isn’t downbeat through and through.

“Even though there’s horribly depressing things that happened, it’s about looking forward,” Caselli said. “In the end, it makes a point about what’s really important in our lives: the people in them.”

Caselli, who directed Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” with MSU students in 2009, said collaborations between MSU and the Williamston Theatre are a two-way treat. For students, it offers a crack at professional experience. For the pros, it’s a chance to tap into some youthful energy. They’ll need both to bring Miller’s sprawling dramatic canvas to life.

‘The American Clock’

MSU Department of Theatre, Sept. 22-Oct. 3. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.
Auditorium Arena Theatre, MSU, $8-$12. (517) 432-2000 or (800) 942-7866.