Theater review: ALL MY SONS

NOTE: The following review incorrectly reports that I am playing the part of Dr. Jim Bayliss.  My part is that of Ann’s brother, George Deever.  Due diligence aside, though, it is a fairly decent review.  — Brad

The ColumnICT Mainstage tackles Arthur Miller’s classic All My Sons this month in the Dupree Theater at Irving Arts Center. Though a few audience members did not return to their seats after a slow first half, they missed out on a very finely handled climax and conclusion.

Though it first debuted on Broadway in 1947, All My Sons has plenty to say to a contemporary American audience. The year is 1946 and the Keller family is entertaining a visit from Ann Deever (Catherine DuBord), a childhood friend of son Chris (Jordan Willis) and former girlfriend of his brother Larry, who went Missing in Action during World War II. Chris and Anne would like to marry, but must overcome the disapproval of mother Kate Keller (Diane Truitt), who believes her son Larry will return any day. More importantly, they must deal with the truth about their fathers’ former business partnership, during the course of which several U.S. war pilots lost their lives due to faulty parts Keller and Deever delivered, which landed Anne’s father in prison.

The first act (of three, though there is only one intermission and rightly so) is largely expository – which is more Arthur Miller’s doing than anyone else’s – but director Marco Salinas does little to keep the act moving. Brad Stephens, as the Keller’s neighbor, Dr. Jim Bayliss, proves himself a competent actor, but he has difficulty finding his timing and brings the action to a crawl at the top of the play. The first act relies heavily on the Kellers’ neighbors, most of whom won’t be seen much later on; as Dr. Bayliss’s wife Sue, Diana Gonzalez brings the strongest stage presence in the cast, along with a clear grasp of the play’s time period.

Though they are fine actors, it is a sense of time period that is lacking in Willis’s and DuBord’s performances. Some of the youngest in the cast, they play their scenes with overly contemporary movements and line readings. Too, they never quite move beyond the brother/sister relationship to find the strong romantic chemistry that would justify their rehashing of such dark issues within and between their families. Still, the entire cast does fine work in the second and third acts, each of which is shaped quite nicely. Both Willis and DuBord move from innocence to jaded understanding at a clear and appropriate pace, and both McNiel’s Joe Keller and Truitt’s Kate unravel piece by piece. The intensity is fairly high after intermission and continues to build in such a compelling way that Miller’s genius shines through beautifully. Salinas has created a particularly riveting final half hour, during which a good deal of game-changing information comes forth. It is often far too easy for a director and production to lose control and lose the audience in the face of this much revelation, but Salinas develops the play’s final actions with both power and precision.

Wade Giampa’s scenic design, while nicely conceived and realized, is at times a bit of a distraction. Giampa creates a strong sense of suburban America in the 1940s, but it is perhaps too strong. There is a certain genius in the painfully bright yellow he chooses for the exterior of Keller’s house, the cheery nature of which so strongly contrasts the darker secrets that live within its walls; the brightness of the scenery, however (and especially under an equally bright lighting design by Sam Nance), is at times overpowering. From time to time, the actors fade away and the action is lost as the looming, yet ever so slightly cartoonish scenery takes center stage. Nance’s lighting design draws equal attention to itself; though they are always functional and appropriate, the lights often seem to change mid-scene with little or no apparent reason.

Costumes, hair and makeup are hit and miss. The women fare better in Suzi Cranford’s costumes, many of them vintage dresses and ensembles, though some of these items could use a little attention; several audience members commented in the middle of the third act about the loose threads hanging several inches from the hem of DuBord’s beautiful party dress. The men, however, receive less care, each outfitted with slacks and a somewhat ill-fitted sweater vest that looks generic beside the women’s sweater sets and seamed stockings. Too, great pains have been taken to give the women distinctly 1940s hairstyles – all except DuBord, whose flatly dyed blonde hair is absently pinned up at the side.

Flaws aside, though, ICT Mainstage’s All My Sons is an earnest production that recognizes and honors one of the most significant playwrights of the American theatre. In a theatre world often more interested in contemporary voices and big musicals, productions like this one go a long way to remind us why an Arthur Miller or a Eugene O’Neill is still so highly respected. ICT brings a fantastic play that has become somewhat peripheral to a contemporary audience in an interesting, relatable production.

— by Dennis Sloan of John Garcia’s The Column

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