Arthur Miller’s powerful masterpiece, “All My Sons,” doesn’t get as much attention of some of his more popular dramas, but director Seth Gordon makes sure everyone gets their share of “ah-ha” moments and outright gasps as the tense family story comes to a revealing and somewhat shocking close. It’s a master class on the dramatic school of playwrights from the 40’s, 50’s and into the 60’s as the story and characters build until the tension becomes almost too much to bear. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis delivers again as they show why they handle these plays almost better than anyone else.
In fact, the exposition as the play starts almost lulls you to sleep as neighbors are introduced and a bit of the background story slowly unfolds on stage. But once things get going, it’s a series of ebb and flow that resembles a game of Jenga as one secret is revealed after another until the final, tragic moments fall on the characters as well as the audience.
At the heart of the story, set in 1947, is Joe Keller, a factory owner who, with his partner built airplane parts during the war effort. Although his partner took the fall for faulty products that resulted in the death of 21 pilots, there has always been whispers and doubt about Joe’s involvement in the tragedy. As the play opens, John Woodson makes Joe an affable and outgoing father who enjoys bantering with the neighbors and relishing his family, although one of his sons died as a result of those mistakes in the factory. His performance is a powerful one as he keeps an effortless front while he is constantly reminded of what he might have done to his son as well as his partner.
His loyal but delusional wife, Kate, is give a stellar performance by Margaret Daly. She lives every day with the hope that the missing son, Larry, will walk through the door and prove everyone wrong- that he was shot down and killed. Additionally, she harbors the nagging doubt of Joe’s involvement in the cover up of the defective parts. Rounding out the family is the surviving son, Chris, and Patrick Ball infuses him with emotional and unwavering élan.
Chris has decided that he should pursue the love of Larry’s life, Ann- who also is the daughter of Joe’s partner who is now incarcerated- and Chris invites her to the house with the sole purpose of asking to marry her. Mairin Lee is delightful as the equally eager Ann who has pined for Chris and is more than willing to accept his proposal. Joe agrees but Kate still holds onto the hope that Larry will return and is reluctant to give her consent. Enter Ann’s brother George who initially is furious that Ann has once again gotten involved again with the Keller family. Zac Hoogendyk tackles the most complex character of the piece with a master’s touch. His range of emotions from hatred to nostalgia to passive aggressive is remarkable to behold. It’s an outstanding performance in a play filled with characters of nuance and a full range of depth.
Jim Ireland and Amy Hohn play neighbors as do Grant Fletcher Prewitt and Emily Kunkel while Ana McAlister rounds out the cast. They all at turns show their loyalty to the Keller family while all eventually expressing doubt as to the outright innocence of Joe in all of the scandal involving his factory. They represent an interesting character study themselves as they pass through the family garden with their own baggage as their feelings and beliefs finally pour forth.
Michael Ganio has designed an intriguing set where the main playing area if a very realistic portrayal of a backyard oasis while a very stylized house hovers over the background. His choice of an upper level bursting through the corners of the house points out Kate’s obsession with her dead son as racks and racks of his clothes dominate in a line that is lit by the outstanding lighting design of Peter E. Sargent occasionally throughout the play. Myrna Colley-Lee has provided excellent period costumes and Rusty Wandall’s sound design is perfect for the setting.
As I mentioned at the top, Associate Artistic Director of the Rep, Seth Gordon, has fashioned a wonderful moment-by-moment reveal that suits the pace of “All My Sons” perfectly. Everyone arrives at various conclusions like a flower slowly blossoming- both to the characters on stage and the audience alike. It’s a rare, classic interpretation of this great American tragedy.
Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Mainstage through January 29th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 to see an exquisite take on a classic of the American theatre.