EXTENDED THRU JUNE 30 !
Review by Carol Rocamora
Ah, the porches of America…
How many family dramas have we seen unfold on those familiar steps, verandas or backyards? Fences, Death of A Salesman, To Kill A Mockingbird…the list goes on and on.
So Jack O’Brien’s choice to set his straightforward production of All My Sons in the leafy backyard of the Keller home (circa 1947, somewhere in the Midwest), as the author intended, is a reaffirmation – both of the tradition in American drama and the towering place of Arthur Miller’s play in it. After the high-concept, director-driven productions of A View from the Bridge and The Crucible recently on Broadway, it’s refreshing to experience this Miller classic in its realistic setting (beautifully designed and detailed by Douglas W. Schmidt). “Traditional,” after all, need not be a disparaging word in the theatre. In this case, consider it both a compliment and a sign of respect.
This sturdily constructed melodrama tells the story of the Keller family. Joe, the patriarch (Tracy Letts), is a successful businessman who has made a fortune from the war – by manufacturing cylinders for fighter planes. But a cloud hangs over the family’s backyard – the memory of Larry, their eldest son, a pilot who went missing in action three years ago. Kate (Annette Bening), Joe’s wife, steadfastly refuses to give up hope that Larry might still be alive. Meanwhile, Chris (Ben Walker), their surviving son who works with his father in the family business, hopes to marry Larry’s fiancée, Annie (Francesca Carpanini). Enter Annie’s brother George (Hampton Fluker), and a terrible secret from Joe’s past is revealed that threatens to destroy the lives of two families.
Like his masterpiece Death of a Salesman, written two years later, All My Sons is an American morality play, dealing with the themes of American business ethics, ambition, and the price of success. “I’m in business – a man is in business!” Joe states, defending the decisions that will ultimately bring down his house (no spoiler, since you undoubtedly know this classic.) “There’s something bigger than the family!” Kate replies to Joe’s assertion that he “did it all for Chris.” Like Salesman, All My Sons invokes the Biblical “sins of the father” that are visited upon the sons.
Tracy Letts offers an honest portrait of a loving family man blinded by ambition, competition, and the American Dream. As his son Chris, Ben Walker gives a heartrending performance of a devoted son confronted with the truth about his father. Annette Bening is memorable as a wife and mother who becomes a pillar of strength in the face of impending tragedy (of Greek proportions).
Miller wrote All My Sons in a turbulent time, between two cataclysmic historical events – World War II and the McCarthy hearings. As a playwright of social conscience, he felt not only the need – but also the responsibility – to write about our morals and values and how they define us. It’s encouraging to see writers like Jon Robin Baitz (Other Desert Cities), Steven Levenson (The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin) and Ayad Akhtar (Junk) follow in his footsteps. Who’s next?
All My Sons by Arthur Miller, directed by Jack O’Brien. At the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre, through June 23.