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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Solid revivals of All My Sons at Intiman and
Of Mice and Men at Seattle Rep

All My Sons
Margo Moorer and
Chuck Cooper

Well-realized revivals of Arthur Miller's All My Sons and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men are currently gracing the stages of two major Seattle houses, and both are rather downbeat, and therefore courageous scheduling choices for the times we are living through, when musicals and comedies are the "safe" bill of fare.

All My Sons is the more novel production, of a less enduring play, which my companion and I agree we both prefer to Miller's more frequently revived (and even more downbeat) Death of a Salesman. Set in a post-WWII middle-American town, it centers on Joe Keller, the patriarch of a popular family, who has (seemingly) weathered a scandal involving his involvement in the knowing sale of defective aircraft parts to the U.S. military during the war, which caused him to serve some jail time before an appeal got him realized. His elder son's father-in-law, who worked for Joe, really took the fall and remains in prison, contending that Joe encouraged him to follow through with the sale, which Joe denies. Joe's wife Kate holds fast in the belief that her older son, missing and presumed dead in the war, is alive and will be coming back, hindering younger son Chris' determination to marry his former sister-in-law Ann. Enter Ann's brother George who, after a visit with their incarcerated father, has become a bit unhinged and determined to confront Joe's presumed lies. A bombshell of a letter held by Ann sets the stage for the final twist in this tragedy of an American middle-class family.

Director Valerie Curtis-Newton's casting of African-American actors as the Kellers, their in-laws, and another neighboring family is hardly a shocker in this day and age, and adds additional texture and nuance to the production. The key to this play is casting an actor of power, presence, warmth, and a steely undercurrent as Joe, and Broadway vet Chuck Cooper is the man for the job. Cooper makes his Joe so likable at the outset that we find ourselves balking at the accusations against him until they cannot be dismissed. His deep anguish in the play's climactic moments is palpable. Margo Moorer struggles at times with the role of Kate, growing strident in some of her outbursts, but solid in the character's quieter moments. Reggie Jackson as Chris is a standout, with a well-modulated portrayal of the son who not only has to live in his late brother's long shadow, but also face the cruel reality of his beloved father's actions. Nicole Lewis seems a shade too contemporary as Ann Deever, but succeeds in making her too kind to be true character believable, and Shanga Parker as her desolate brother George has some shining moments as well. As a white couple next door, Bradford Farwell is sympathetic as Dr. Jim Bayliss, and Carol Roscoe outstandingly embodies small-town small mindedness as his two-faced bitch of a wife. Khatt Taylor and Geoffrey Simmons handle their comic relief roles as another neighbor couple, the Lubeys, with ease, and Jonah Schmidt is charming as gullible neighborhood kid Bert. Director Curtis-Newton has wisely eliminated a second intermission from the proceedings, and never allows the play to meander or feel rushed.

Matthew Smucker creates a realistic and falsely comforting house front and yard set of the Keller's home, where all the action unravels, with Mary Louise Geiger offering a subtle light design and Melanie Taylor Burgess providing satisfying period costumes.

All My Sons runs at Seattle's Intiman Theatre through April 17th. For tickets or information contact the Intiman box office at 206-269-1900 or visit them online at www.intiman.org.

Of Mice and Men
Charles Leggett
Remember as a kid those Warner Brothers cartoons with the smart little mouse George and his big lummox of a sidekick, who clearly worshipped him? That was WB's satirical take on George and Lennie, the pivotal characters in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men which started as a book, a play, and then several film and television adaptations before the cartoonization. The Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of the play is a fine, earnest directorial effort by the company's artistic director Jerry Manning, who has found a rather stunningly well-matched ensemble of actors to reinvigorate the tale, with one actor positively stealing the show without really trying.

Set in Depression-era Northern California, Of Mice and Men depicts how roaming ne'er-do-wells, the brainy George and the slow but brawny Lenny (whom George has long looked after) find work at a ranch where the deck seems loaded against them from the outset, as they dream of saving just enough cash to stake claim to a little farm of their own. Lennie, a sweet natured soul who likes rabbits and puppy dogs, doesn't understand that the ranch owner's daughter-in-law, a lonely, frustrated tart, isn't just another soft thing that he can pet, and initially this leads to an altercation with the hot-tempered rancher's son Curley. Lennie, unaware of his own strength, fights back and busts Curley's hand, setting the stage for darker events to come. Yet the story has warmth and humor, supplied by George and Lennie's fellow outcasts, the pathetic old–timer Candy and ostracized African-American Crooks, who both get caught up in perhaps joining George and Lennie on their dream farm. The dreams don't come true, and George is faced with a hopeless decision by the play's end.

Many actors, from Lon Chaney, Jr. to John Malkovich, have made their mark in the role of Lennie. In this production, Charles Leggett's sympathetic portrayal of this man with limited intelligence but infinite heart is simply the most indelible and definitive I have seen, and one by which I will measure all future Lennies by. Troy Fischnaller gives a solid, straightforward interpretation of George, and the relationship between he and Leggett is totally convincing. As Candy, Seán G. Griffin is doing the memory of Walter Brennan and his kind of solid character acting justice, and Teagle F. Bougere richly taps the soul of the alienated but kind-at-heart Crooks. Jim Gall as understanding and mediating ranch hand Slim is wonderfully natural and perfectly cast. Seanjohn Walsh is deliciously unpleasant as Curley, a short-statured lout with a grudge against the world, and Elise Carolina is able to convey both the unpleasant side of Curley's wife and yet earn our pity for what made her the way she is. William A. Williams, Ray Tagavilla and Eric Ray Anderson all add texture in small roles.

Jennifer Zeyl's earthy set is simply transporting, Robert J. Aguilar's lighting design is pure beauty, and Deb Trout's well-worn looking costumes suit the characters well.

Of Mice and Men runs at Seattle Repertory Theatre through April 10th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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