New York City Theater
"All My Sons"
(Broadway), New York
Arthur Miller, one of America’s most revered playwrights, once more makes his impact on Broadway in a limited run of “All My Sons” (the show closes in January 2009). And once again, Miller takes the high moral ground, as he deals with greed, money, manslaughter, and sleazy practices. His central character Joe Keller has made a fortune providing airplane parts to the government during World War II. As it turns out, those parts were faulty, sending American pilots to their death.
Is Joe Keller to blame for the tragedy? Did he force some one else to take the fall? In this beautifully-crafted play, the tension builds, as Joe Keller gradually confronts his accusers and his own demons.
The story, which unfolds in the Keller’s back yard, deals with the return of Chris, the son, who is now in the family business, and the visit of Ann Deever, whom he hopes to marry. Ann was engaged to the other Keller son Larry, a pilot who had gone missing in action. Both Chris and Ann believe Larry has died and plan to make a new life together. But Kate, the mother, clings to the idea that Larry still lives, will return, and will marry Ann. Ann’s father, once Joe’s partner, serving prison time for the plane parts debacle, is about to be released, and Ann’s brother George, who had just visited him, appears on the scene, full of accusations. Thus unfolds the convoluted, carefully woven plot.
How effectively does the current production at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre tell this story? Under Simon McBurney’s imaginative direction, a new version comes forth. McBurney uses actors as a kind of Greek chorus, while adding a video background of soaring planes. Hence the story moves beyond the immediate angst of the Keller family, to take a wider view and to assume almost mythical proportions.
McBurney has cobbled together a cast, with mixed degrees of success, but topped by the infallible Dianne Wiest (Kate)—a gifted performer who thoroughly inhabits her character. John Lithgow (Joe Keller) is a fine actor, but comes off as too-nice, too gentlemanly, too lacking in ethnic fire. One can see a Lee Cobb or a Charles Durning or (as in the case of the film) an Edward G. Robinson in the role. As to others, Patrick Wilson creates a fine, believable Chris, and Katie Holmes, as Ann, strikes a jarring note initially, but finally settles into the part. Various neighbors who wander in and out of the Keller job tend to be caricatures, but work effectively when they turn into the Greek chorus.
All told, this particular “All My Sons” will please some, disappoint others, but will prove, once again, that the play itself proves surprisingly durable.
Nov. 5, 2008