KPBS AIRDATE: August 9, 2002
Boy, do we need Arthur Miller. Long regarded as America’s greatest living playwright, he reminds us repeatedly who we are, what we’ve done and how we could be. His plays deal with morality and social responsibility, and though they may go in and out of popularity, they will never really go out of style. Miller has been having a resurgence of late, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
“All my Sons” was the playwright’s first success. When it premiered in 1947, it foreshadowed his later, greater masterwork, “Death of a Salesman.” A lot of the same elements are there: a father-son conflict, where the son learns an ugly truth about his dad, an American Everyman who causes his own tragic downfall. In this case, the odious act is war profiteering, but the play is really about responsibility to self and society.
In his director’s notes, Richard Seer reports on a frighteningly similar story — a man selling defective airplane parts to the U.S. military. The one Seer recounted happened not 50 years ago, but four months ago. The more things change… etcetera.
In the Globe production, the clarity of the piece is dazzling. David Ledsinger’s gorgeous set, a clapboard house and yard in Anytown, USA, is gloriously lit by Trevor Norton with a dappled, golden glow that, as the day wears on and the mood gets darker, deepens in color and hue. There’s an equal amount of shading in the characterizations onstage.
Daniel J. Travanti is a likable and stubborn old coot as Joe Keller, fiercely defensive of his family and his acts. He takes us along on his unsettling emotional journey, from robust survivor at the outset, to self-protective shambles by the end. Robin Pearson Rose brings her usual aching reality to the role of Kate, Joe’s long-suffering wife, a woman who knows the price of honesty and lies. So she holds out, refusing to admit that her pilot son, lost in action 3 1/2 years ago, is never going to return home; if she allows that, she’d have to concede that her husband played some (probably indirect) role in his death. As their remaining son, Brian Hutchison is a credible naif, a weak-willed, idealistic guy who sees the world in black and white and puts his father on a pedestal. When he invites his brother’s girlfriend home, with the intent of marrying her, it sets off a series of inexorable events that will ultimately bring down the House of Keller. All the secondary characters, though capably played, are less multi-dimensional and meaty roles. The townsfolk serve mainly as foils, antagonists, precipitators or commentators and they’re weak links in this early Miller effort. But “All My Sons” still has the power to move and affect us; with is gritty dialogue and apple-pie realism, it can still make us chuckle and weep. In these amoral, materialistic, war-ravaged times, the play touches the heart and heads straight for the soul.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.