Well directed and performed

All My Sons

Venue: The Stanley Theatre

Dates: January 24 - February 24, 2002

Reviewer: Jane Penistan

What a play and how well directed and performed! All My Sons, Arthur Miller's post war play examines family relationships, business ethics and the turmoil of returning service men to home based neighbours. A small town neighbourhood apparently basks in the return of peace to the United States. It is a place to pick up the pieces the war has shattered and settle back into a profitable stable existence once again.

The war is over, most of the wounds are healing and the families and children are safe. Beneath the surface, the hope of a mother whose son is missing believed killed cannot be extinguished; the horror of killing cannot be obliterated from the mind of the returning service man and the unacknowledged guilt of the industrialist whose shoddy goods have led to the deaths of untold young Americans cannot be reconciled.

The mother lies to herself and her family that her son will return . The industrialist endeavours to persuade himself and his family that his wealth is the result of hard work for the war effort and to give his wife and children a life unencumbered by monetary worry. The son, the veteran, suffers from the self-imposed guilt of surviving his brother and his mates.

Disinterest in the family business and an inability to know what to do with the rest of his life lead to conflict with his father. Friendly neighbours and erstwhile schoolmates keep up the façade of the world as the American dream come true and a future of living happily ever after.

But this false security cannot last. Enter the girl both brothers dated in high school,and her brother, once considered a nonentity, now a talented lawyer, and hidden malpractices are exposed. Ultimately, the sins are confronted and acknowledged. The suppressed guilty knowledge is confessed, love and affection effect reconciliation and, while life will never be the same again, there is hope for the future if society accepts its responsibility for all its members.

"No man is an island entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind". They are all my sons.

With John Cooper's admirable direction and the talent of the cast, this beautifully constructed play comes to life on a stage looking like all those comfortable well-established American homes of the late 1940's and early 50's. One can almost smell the flowers and feel the heat and humidity. The clothes too, add to this mid-century picture - those full skirts and flat shoes. It becomes clear that the time is soon after the cessation of hostilities in Europe and the Far East.

Norman Browning and Martha Henry bring maturity and solidity to the characters of Joe and Kate Keller. Kate is the mother who hopes against hope that her lost son will reappear and that she will once again be able to believe in Joe whose dishonesty she has lived with and pretended to ignore for years. The strain of this is taking its toll on her and she is suffering from unexplained ill health.

Joe is almost too self-assured, secure in the knowledge that he has been exonerated from the accusation of knowingly supplying damaged sub-standard cylinders to the U.S. Air Force. He cannot understand why his son, Chris, (Jeffrey Renn) is unwilling to join him in the profitable business he has worked hard to build up. He is proud of the standard of living he provides for his wife and their remaining son, and bitterly disappointed at Chris's disinterest in a career in industry.

The Kellers are the leading family in the locality, if one is to judge by the friendly neighbours who appear in the pleasant backyard of the Keller home. Ann Deever, beautifully played by Laurie Paton, is the girl who was engaged to Chris's dead brother, Her father was Joe's business partner. Ann and Chris renew their adolescent mutual affection and decide to become engaged.

George Deever, Ann's brother (Robert Maloney) arrives and with him trouble and conflict. The boy whom the Kellers despised is now a competent and established lawyer. He accuses Joe of having evaded imprisonment for supplying faulty engine parts, by allowing his partner, Deever, to be blamed, convicted and jailed. He strongly objects to Ann's marrying Chris, saying that she is joining the family who has ruined their own father.

George has done his research on the trial, and states his case with clarity and conviction. This scene of George's accusation and Ann's divided loyalty is convincingly and powerfully acted. It is Kate who ultimately forces Joe to admit his guilt and perfidy.

All along she has known this, but like the death of her pilot son, she has willed herself not to believe it. Now Kate shows her real strength and Joe his weakness, pleading that he did what he did only for his wife and his children's future, though Joe is deluding no one but himself.

Kate's returning strength, with the relief from her burden of deception and Joe's disintegration at his finally being brought face to face with his misdeeds are superbly performed. Mention should also be made of Stephen Dimopoulos who portrays a wise small town doctor who has the interests of his patients at heart.

All My Sons could be considered a period piece, but like most long lived and popular period pieces, it is apposite to today. War is still waging and war crimes of one sort or another are reported daily in the news media. Maybe the actual hostilities are far away, but let us remember as Arthur Miller reminds us, we all have a responsibility to one another and those on active service are all our sons.

© 2002, Jane Penistan

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