Family bonding at STAGEStheatre
All My Sons debuted on Broadway in 1947 to great success. It was subsequently adapted to film in 1948 and then again in 1987. Joe Parrish directs and stars in STAGEStheatre’s production, which doesn’t stray far from the play’s roots. The audience was greeted with the play’s signature backyard –a weathered but sturdy farmhouse decorated with simple and worn wooden patio furniture. A hand fan and slow jazz helped create the atmosphere of a hot, smothering, summer day where it just makes more sense to sit still rather than do anything. Delightful detail was paid to the tiny interior portion of the house the audience was able to view –giving the small set a sense of depth that made the space feel much bigger.
Parrish, Ruleaux and McDonald demonstrated a strong sense of their complex and realistic characters, which kept the Kellers from feeling like stereotypes or tropes. McDonald in particular captured the emotional weight Kate carried while dealing with the loss of her son and the tragic family secret her and her husband were hiding. While Parrish started off playing Joe as cool and collected, he allowed his character to unravel as the plot chipped away at that image. The trio also had enough chemistry to form a convincing family unit, and for most of the performance the cast was able to pull the audience into the dramatic plot. However, a few issues with timing and lines that slightly marred the overall success of the evening, unfortunately.
Still, STAGEStheatre’s All My Sons presents a dramatic, heartstring tugging tale with a timely message. Miller modeled the play after classic Greek tragedies, and the cast captures those aspects of the plot. While the audience might not leave the theater humming a catchy tune, or repeating a funny line, the performance were strong and memorable enough to generate discussion and reflection.
All My Sons, Still Potent and Timely
Written by Scotty Keister
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons was his first commercial success, first produced on Broadway in 1947 and twice made into films, in ’48 and ’87. It has a slow misleading first act that builds eventually to a powerful climax that unexpectedly becomes a slam against wartime profiteering on the part of American industry. Based on the true story of Wright Aeronautical Corporation that transpired in ’41-’43, it tells the story of All-American good guy, Joe Keller, who has been keeping some deep, dark secrets, and how those secrets ultimately lead to devastating tragedy. It’s pretty much a framework for American drama in the 40s and 50s that Miller was to become a master of with The Crucible, Death of a Salesman and View from the Bridge.
Joe Parrish directs the production at Stages Theatre and also plays the lead role of Joe Keller. It’s another offering in his successful production of classic American theater over the past several years on Fullerton stages. Parrish has a knack for ferreting out the essential heart of the dramas as well as nailing down heartfelt and powerful performances himself in Long Day’s Journey into Night, Twelve Angry Men and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
All My Sons is no exception. His supporting cast here is too young in a few roles, but not to any crucial detriment. Arlyn McDonald is Joe’s wife Kate, who for three years has been holding onto desperate hope that her eldest son Larry, MIA in the South Pacific war zone, is still alive, when all others have given up on him. This includes their younger son Chris, also a veteran, and Larry’s former fiancé, Ann, who is now planning to marry Chris. Of course, this is unacceptable to Kate; Ann is Larry’s girl. McDonald excels as Kate, linking together moments of grief and anger to powerful effect. Ann, a former neighbor, has come back to town to claim Chris’ affection and is astonished that Kate has still not given up on Larry. Christi Pedigo, as the somewhat bewildered Ann, is a strong presence throughout. Nate Ruleaux as Chris comes off as too whiny in the first half of the play, whereas Chris is supposed to be an all-around buoyant nice guy who loves his dad unconditionally. However, Ruleaux builds up to some strong moments by the play’s conclusion, as do the rest of the cast.
There are so many secrets at work here undermining this romantic quagmire that the first half of the show leads one unfamiliar with the story, as I was, to suspect something wholly different is going on. It’s only when we learn about Ann’s father Steve – Joe’s former partner – and their involvement in building faulty aircraft parts, as well as Joe’s and Steve’s incarceration, that the story really starts to take form. When Ann’s brother George (played with controlled fire by Zackary Salene) arrives to spirit Ann away the secrets start to break free and the momentum of the show begins a steady build to what becomes a startling uncovering of a web of lies going back many years.
All this is handled beautifully by a controlled cast, including Phil Brickey, Sara LaFramboise, Dennis Blanchard and Aly Easton as various neighbors, friendly, or decidedly unfriendly, towards the Kellers. The set is a simple framework of a much worn house and porch, and a few pieces of lawn furniture, built for realism by John Gaw. Andrea Birkholm did the subtle period costumes. Highly recommended for a dose of good-old American theatre that still packs a punch, with a timely story that is as potent now as it was 70 years ago, possibly more so.
The show runs through February 21, Fridays-Sundays.
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