All My Sons
(Arthur Miller Bio)
Directed by Simon McBurney
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Starring: John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest,
Patrick Wilson, Katie Holmes
With: Becky Ann Baker, Danielle Ferland,
Christian Camargo, Jordan Gelber,
Michael D’Addario, Damian Young
Sherman Howard, Clark Jackson, Lizbeth Mackay
Christopher Grey Misa, Danielle Skraastad
Producers: Eric Falkenstein, Ostar Productions,
Barbara H. Freitag, Stephanie P. McClelland,
Scott Delman, Roy Furman, Ruth Hendel,
In Assoc. with Hal Luftig, Jane Bergere, Jamie deRoy
Scenic and Costume Design: Tom Pye
Lighting Design: Paul Anderson
Sound Design: Christopher Shutt & Carolyn Downing
Projection Design: Finn Ross for Mesmer
Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Assoc. Producer/Casting Director: Cindy Tolan
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.
Production Stage Manager: Andrea “Spook” Testani
Technical Supervisor: Nick Schwartz-Hall
Assoc. Producers: A. Asnes/A. Zotovich,
M. Mills/L. Stevens
Company Manager: Kimberly Kelley
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 15, 2008
Arthur Miller sees into his characters’ souls and reveals their remorse, dread, conflict, despair, and secrets. All My Sons opened on Broadway in 1947, was adapted to film in 1948 and 1986, and was revived again on Broadway in 1987. Miller’s plays should be seen more often, as they provide a mirror to our collective conscience, and their varied psychological-socio-political implications ring truer on each viewing. As it’s been said, “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” The state of Faustian pacts is just as real in 2008 as it was in 1947. Think Iraq, think bank Bailout, think Halliburton, think rendition.
Joe Keller (John Lithgow) is the post-World War II patriarch, who owns an airplane parts manufacturing plant that, under deadline pressures, supplied the US military with faulty engine bolts, filled with cracks, that led to the immediate death of 21 pilots. The day the faulty parts were shipped, Keller was home “sick”. His partner, Deever, is sitting in jail, as he took the legal hit for the crime, while Joe was exonerated on having been ill. Joe and Kate Keller (Dianne Wiest) lost their son, Larry, also a pilot in the War, or he’s still missing in action, and Joe and Kate disagree on his fate. Kate waits for his return, even after his “memorial tree” blows out of its roots in a preamble to Act I. Chris Keller (Patrick Wilson) believes with his father that Larry is gone, and now Chris wants to marry Larry’s fiancée, Ann Deever, daughter of Joe’s jailed partner, and former neighbor to the Kellers.
Ann (Katie Holmes), is resigned to Larry’s demise and prepares to marry Chris, despite Kate’s anger, as she remains confident in the value of her dreams and even in Larry’s horoscope from that dreadful day, three years ago. George Deever (Christian Camargo), Ann’s brother, has a brief cameo to confront Ann and Chris, as he feels the impending marriage would betray their martyred father. In addition to these lead characters, an ensemble of neighbors appears and disappears, at unexpected moments, a child, his parents, and an eclectic array of neighbors with speaking or walk-on parts. Some of these walk-on parts become intrinsic to Simon McBurney’s unique and astounding direction. McBurney is Artistic Director of the European Complicité, and his production effects are dynamic and daring. In fact, the entire two Acts take place outdoors on an expansive lawn, with only a shell of the house and a screen door in the visible stage rear.
Among McBurney’s innovations is a thread of choreography, that expands the play with: aesthetic dimensions of fluid motion, filmic background, projection cues, visible offstage characters, Greek Chorus-like bits of orchestration, and a quasi-modern dance motif of ensemble walks across the stage. In fact, another innovation was having Lithgow, himself, ask the audience to turn off cell phones before the play started, with the entire cast behind him. This announcement was followed with Lithgow verbally announcing the setting, before the scene changes and action were subsequently cued on the projection screen (thanks to Finn Ross for Messmer). There were film clips of Larry in his plane, World War II aerial shots, the airplane parts manufacturing assembly, and a moving, urban crowd. Thunder, lightning, music, and other technical effects gave this production edge, electricity, and engagement. This is not to say the actors did not engage. This is to say, rather, that McBurney’s concept is contemporary and charismatic.
John Lithgow performs with layers of complexity and conflict. His posture, voice, even hand motion shift with the mysteries and revelations. Lithgow is an actor’s actor, and he was equally riveting dancing a lustful two-step with Ann, as he was pulling punches with Chris. Patrick Wilson morphs before our eyes from romantic business heir to seething son and brother, as emerging emotions boil and burst. Dianne Wiest is the quintessential War mother and wife, all-forgiving, strong as steel. She replaces the up-rooted tree with her own unbending spine. Ms. Wiest lives on hope, but not delusion, and, as events conclude, she is the calm eye at the center of the storm. Katie Holmes, who has generated large crowds at the theatre and stage-door, star of film and television, makes her Broadway debut as Miller’s Ann Deever. I found her delightful and driven in the role, and, with time, she will expand nuance and detail here and in future theatre. Ms. Holmes exudes energy, enthusiasm, and élan.
The minor characters, in speaking appearances and choreographed walk-throughs, Christian Camargo (George Deever), Becky Ann Baker (neighbor, Sue Bayliss), Michael D’Addario (Bert, child neighbor), Danielle Ferland (neighbor, Lydia Lubey), Jordan Gelber (neighbor, Frank Lubey), and Damian Young (neighbor, Dr. Jim Bayliss), fill in plot details and add some lighter moments. Five additional actors appear in mime. The Kellers show their public personas in their interaction with the outsiders. When the outsiders are offstage, the Kellers unleash their temperaments. All My Sons at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is gripping, satisfying theatre. Kudos to Simon McBurney, kudos to the Cast, and kudos to Arthur Miller.
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