Set in the turbulent summer of late August, 1946, the year after World War II ended, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is a study in false values and their resulting devastation. Joe Keller (Michael McNiel) the patriarch of a prosperous, upper-middle class home, is trying to persevere after calamity and upheaval has shaken his family nearly to pieces. His elder son, Larry, has died in the war, a fact his wife, Kate (Diane Truitt) has refused to confront. In a scandal involving his factory and defective airplane parts, his neighbor, friend and business partner, Steve Deever, has been sent to prison. As the play opens, his younger son, Chris (Jordan Willis) has brought home Steve’s daughter, Ann, with the hope of getting married. But doing so would mean getting Kate to admit that Larry is never coming home, because in her mind, Ann is still Larry’s girl.
“All My Sons” begins with great frantic energy and resolve. Despite the fact that the mother, Kate, verges on hysteria, she hangs on vigilantly to the version of truth that sustains her. The Kellers are good-hearted folks, and they have held up in the midst of personal and public catastrophe, even when they are vilified and harassed. The younger son, Chris, hasn’t an aggressive bone in his body; he sees the good in everyone. Ann has assumed the courts have convicted the right man, subsequently cutting off all ties with her incarcerated father, and falling in love with her dead fiancé’s younger brother. As one by one, each character’s defenses are knocked down, horrible revelations and recriminations are brought to light. Where once tranquility and contentment prevailed, instead there is chaos and confusion.
Miller’s story involves the extended family of humanity, as well as the immediate, nuclear family. There is much talk about growing up together, memories of childhood and yearning for a bright future. A central metaphor for unexpected destruction appears in the shape of a tree split open and destroyed by a lightning bolt, obviously by forces beyond their control. Miller goes to great lengths to show us it’s not only about looking out for your own, but taking responsibility for the more pervasive impact of your actions. That we needn’t succeed to the detriment of others. The quintessentially American suburban dream-home the Kellers occupy (designed by Wade Giampa) looks sunny and serene at the beginning, but by the end it has acquired a pall.
ICT MainStage’s production of “All My Sons” is an inspired, intense, enervating drama. Bleak and absorbing, implosive and heartbreaking, it is a domestic tragedy of meaningful proportions, carried out with authenticity and dedication by director Marco Salinas, and his extensive, talented cast. Jordan Willis was mesmerizing and deeply touching as the passionate, altruistic Chris Keller. Fred Patchen, as Dr. Jim Bayliss, was wry and reflective, if not always easy to understand. Catherine DuBord, a knockout in earlier productions of “Proof” and KDT’s “The Pillowman”, is poignant and affecting here as Ann Keller, caught between her family and devotion to Chris. Diane Truitt was splendid as Kate, overcome by grief but still holding fast to sanity as best she can. Truitt was simultaneously frail and courageous, exquisitely genuine and wistful. Michael McNiel was powerful and overwhelming as Joe Keller, the bombastic, troubled, steadfast father of the Keller family, driven to provide and insure their security and prosperity. McNiel has navigated a balance between optimism and ferocity, creating a role that is marvelous, stirring and implacable.
The rest of this extraordinary cast includes : Brad Stephens (George Deever) Diana Gonzalez (Sue Bayliss) Paul Arnold (Frank Lubey) Lyzz Broskey (Lydia Lubey) and the engaging Drew Smith as Bert.
ICT MainStage Presents: Arthur Miller’s All My Sons playing May 29th – June 13th, 2009. Irving Arts Center, 3333 North MacArthur Blvd.Irving, TX 75062. 972.252.ARTS. www.irvingtheatre.org.