All My Sons
Of course, the play itself is pretty terrific. David Mamet, in his book "Theatre," lists it as number five of the ten greatest American plays (after Our Town, The Front Page, Virginia Woolf, and Streetcar Named Desire). Shockingly, he doesn't have Death of a Salesman on his list. Probably he's just being contrarian, since Salesman tops most other polls.
All My Sons is the "other" Arthur Miller play about a father and two sons, written two years before Salesman. (There's a third play, from several years later, The Price, but there the father is already dead before the play starts.) Here, one of the sons never appears, but still plays a major role.
Unlike Salesman, with its non-standard form (non-linearity, flashbacks, the imaginings of Willy's mind), All My Sons could hardly be more classical in its structure. It follows the ancient Greek forms for tragedy almost exactly: unity of place and time (it takes place on one set, a back yard, and less than 24 hours elapse). There is a secret that needs to be uncovered, and we see the characters figure it out little by little, usually by bits of information provided by secondary characters (in this case, by the neighbor woman and by George, the son of a wronged man). There is the final revelation of a suppressed truth (here, catalyzed by a letter instead of a messenger or seer)not quite "you killed your father and married your mother", but devastating enough nonetheless. Catastrophe follows, and as the Greeks seemed to believe, it's not enough for one character to atone for his wrongdoing, but the whole family must suffer, and probably for generations to come.
I won't give away the big secret. (Unlike Greek audiences, who already knew the big reveal and the outcome of the tragedy they were attending, most of us like to figure it out for ourselves as we watch a play or see a movie or read a book.) It is based loosely on a true story involving the Curtiss-Wright aviation parts company during World War II. Miller doesn't try to disguise his source material, since he sets the play in Ohio, which is where that company was located. I imagine that in 1947, shortly after the war, when the play opened, it must have packed a real wallop. The amazing thing about it is that it still gives you a punch in the gut today. And the dialogue hasn't aged at all. Maybe what Mamet likes so much is the sheer "American-ness" of this play.
True to form, Jim Cady sets his production at the time the play takes place; he doesn't try to jazz it up for no good reason. The set designed by Linda Wilson and the props by Marcelle Garfield Cady and Claudia Mathes are impressive for such a small theater as the Adobe, and are exacting in their details. The music, a slow movement from a Mahler symphony, might seem out of place, but it sets the mood perfectly.
Like all really good directors, Cady's strength is casting. He has found the right actor for every single role in everything I have ever seen him direct. Here, even the actor play the little boy Bert, Jackson Murrieta, is terrific. Bruce Holbrook, Heather Lovick-Tolley, Timothy Riley, and Kamila Kasparian all do excellent work in smallish parts. Jessica Barkl and David Bommarito are likewise excellent (I'm running out of adjectives) in their pivotal roles. Philip J. Shortell has totally inhabited every character I have seen him play, and he does so again here as Joe Keller, the father.
The real acting revelation here is Matthew Van Wettering as Chris Keller, the son, who is really the main character and protagonist. I've seen him in a few things before, and always liked him, but I didn't know he had the acting chops to pull off a role like this. Well, he does. His character goes through the most changes, and Matthew is totally believable all the way through the tough ride that Chris Keller has to take.
The only person I was a little (and I mean, only a little) disappointed with, and I never thought I would write these words, was Lorri Oliver as Kate Keller, the mother. She was the only one on stage who occasionally reminded me that I was watching actors, not the characters themselves, and her hand-trembling was overdone for a theater that has only four rows of seats. The problem is that she was so luminously wonderful a year ago in A Moon for the Misbegotten that I expect her to be perfect all the time.
But everything else about this show, I would call perfectly done. In the last few years, Albuquerque has been seeing a lot of really good local productions of the latest, hottest, hippest shows right off of Broadway. But there's a lot to be said for revisiting the classics of American theater, and Jim Cady and his crew have been making it possible to see a few of them in top-notch productions. Maybe one of these days they will let me down, but I hope never to see that day.
All My Sons by Arthur Miller is being performed at the Adobe Theater in Albuquerque through March 17, 2013. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Info at www.adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222.