Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
All My Sons is set just a few years after World War II, but the inclusion of some modern costume elements and character interactions makes it clear this story could be told in the wake of any recent military conflict. All the action takes place in the backyard of the Keller family home. Chris Keller (Chase Byrd) has invited childhood neighbor Ann Deever (Nastassja Whitman) for a visit, hoping to propose while she is there. Ann appears smitten, but Chris's parents Kate (Trice Baldwin) and Joe (Paul Kuhn) are not ready to pop the champagne. Kate believes the wedding would be a betrayal to her older son Larry, who was still in love with Ann when he went missing in action more than three years before. Joe is also opposed, but it is unclear whether his concern is for Kate's well being or something more sinister. Through the cascade of personal revelations, exposed family secrets, and plot twists that follow, Miller offers some poignant lessons about the cost of war and the nature of good and evil.
Paul Kuhn's set design (yes, he also plays Joe) for the Keller's yard is as elaborate as the entryway house, and the initial transition from late night crickets to early morning storm is excellent. After that, the production has a bit of a rocky start. Miller may be to blame for the awkward opening dialogue, but the cast cannot find a way to make the first ten minutes any less uncomfortable to watch. Fortunately, things start to improve quickly. Byrd conveys a sense of internal struggle that gives Chris a satisfying depth. Kuhn maintains quietly insidious optimism that is especially effective in the frenetic second act. There is an authentic father-son chemistry between the pair. Baldwin transitions seamlessly between moments of aching vulnerability and vicious manipulation. Often portrayed as a pitiable annoyance, Whitman imbues Ann with clarity and strength of purpose that elevates the production. Carlo Campbell's brief but memorable appearance as Ann's older brother George is absolutely riveting.
Arthur Miller's plays are some of the most iconic American classics, but it is no secret that they can feel didactic and outdated. With just a few subtle choices Carducci's production avoids the worst of Miller's moralizing and misogyny. Breathing a new life and relevance into All My Sons is no easy task, but the Curio Theatre Company's attempt is a success.
All My Sons runs through November 3, 2018, at the Curio Theatre Company's home theatre, at the Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 4740 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia PA. For tickets, visit www.curiotheatre.org or call 215-921-8243.