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A CurtainUp Review
All My Sons
By Elyse Sommer
Think of any new play that's come down the Great White Way during the last couple of seasons and try to name three that will still make a powerful impact fifty years from now. Then go to see All My Sons currently being given a stirring 50th anniversary production at the Roundabout's Laura Pels theater. Not even Miller's own new play that premiered last summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, (The Ride Down Mt. Morgan), can match the eloquence of Sons' characters and its fine craftsmanship.
Sure it's a melodrama mounted on a soap box, but it works even after all these years because it's peopled with memorable flesh and blood characters. It grips and convinces because the playwright never loads a scene with an undischarged bullet (i.e.: Joe Keller's "I'm his father and he's my son, and if there's something bigger than that I'll put a bullet in my head"). The story while a World War II period piece about the tragic consequences of the lapse from decency of an "ordinary" American businessman Joe Keller, (John Cullum), still hits the emotional bulls eye. It is grounded in a time-transcending, universal theme, as summed up towards the end of the play by Chris Keller (Michael Hayden) to his mother (Linda Stephens): "Once and for all you must know that there's a universe of people outside, and you're responsible to it." Unfortunately, Chris' eloquent plea still falls on many a deaf ear and the current examples of greed-above-all, make Joe Keller's knowingly selling defective plane engine pistons to the Army during World War II, all too timely.
As this fine production amply illustrates, All My Sons is also very much a vehicle for fine acting and new interpretations. John Cullum gives a shattering portrayal of Joe Keller He charms and cajoles, he quakes inwardly, he crumbles under the weight of the drama's climax.. If his Midwestern twang does not quite match the accents of the rest of his family and neighbors, it nevertheless fits him to a tee.
Most of the other actors are reprising the roles they played when director Barry Edelstein, mounted this production in tandem with the Williamstown Theatre Festival premiere of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (directed by Scott Ellis). Michael Hayden and Angie Philips are so powerful as Chris Keller and the girl next door who is deeply linked to the family's tragic secret that this is truly a four-star production. Hayden enters the stage as the girl-shy, loving and loyal son. He blossoms touchingly during the scene when he proposes to his dead brother's girl--and he metamorphoses into a wearier, tragically wiser survivor of the Kellers' unravelling tragedy. Linda Stephens at first seems almost too beautiful and elegant to play Kate Keller. However, this glamour helps you to see why Joe would try to excuse his actions with wanting to please her (with money). It also lends conviction to the mesmerizing scene when Ann's brother George (Stephen Barker Turner) re-explodes into Kellers' life. He boils with rage about the fate of his father who's "become a little man" because "that's what happens to suckers" but the charismatic Kate momentarily seduces him back into the familial fold.
In keeping with the CurtainUp Mega Byte Awards criteria for ensemble excellence, this All My Sons is blessed with a fine supporting cast to play the Keller's neighbors. Anne Lange as Sue, the wife of the doctor next-door has a particularly affecting scene when she tells Ann to take Chris away because he "makes people want to be better than they can be." This ensemble excellence extends to Angela Wendt's perfect-as-the-seams in the women's hose costumes and Narelle Sissons mood-evoking set, complete with the sadly symbolic little storm-buffeted tree.
It bears mentioning that, unlike many other serious dramas, the audience on the night I saw the play was very much across the age spectrum. Best of all, both during the intermission and at the end, everyone seemed to be talking about the play and nothing but the play.