Chicago Theatre Review
War and Remembrance
All My Sons – Raven Theatre
Elia Kazan’s 1947 Broadway production of this American classic holds the distinction of being the recipient of the very first Tony Award for a playwright, as well as an accolade for the director. The event would herald Arthur Miller’s writing genius and introduce him to a grateful theatergoing public. The following year saw Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster star in the film version of this great play. “All My Sons” has subsequently been revived on Broadway three times; this marks Raven Theatre’s second production of the play since 1990. Revivals of great plays, like Arthur Miller’s post-WWII drama, are as welcome and eagerly awaited today as when they were first produced.
The playwright’s criticism of the American Dream, which would resurface two years later in his dramatic masterpiece, “Death of a Salesman,” caused Miller to be summoned before the House of Un-American Activities Commission in the 1950’s. Suspected of being a Communist because he dared to question the lengths to which a man would go to achieve success, Mr. Miller was simply an American with strong left-wing beliefs. This play, like most of Arthur Miller’s dramas, can be linked back to the Greek tragedies. In it, the hero’s tragic character flaw causes him to act wrongly, committing an offense that comes back to haunt him. Taking place within a 24-hour period and exploring a father/son relationship, Miller’s play owes a debt to the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles. Joe Keller, the hard-working, well-liked protagonist of this play, finally acknowledges his tragic mistake and ultimately pays for it, thus freeing his son Chris to live his life free of guilt for the sins of his father.
Based upon a real life incident, Miller’s play is set in a small town in 1946, following the end of WWII. Three years prior, Joe Keller encouraged his friend and business partner Steve Deever to go provide the military with cylinder heads for their aircraft, which they knew to be defective. Then, when 21 planes inexplicably crash, Joe and Steve are both arrested for their negligence; Larry, Joe’s son in the military, commits suicide after reading about his father’s role in the tragedy. Joe’s released the following year but Steve continues to serve time. Then, two years later, Joe and his wife Kate (who still clings to the belief that her missing son Larry will one day return home) receive Ann, Steve’s daughter and Larry’s former sweetheart, for an unexpected visit. They learn that their other son Chris, who works at his father’s plant, has fallen in love with and plans to marry Ann. When Ann’s brother George suddenly shows up, following a visit to his father in jail, he confronts Joe about his guilt. The situation comes to a head when Ann produces a shocking, secret letter she received from Larry just prior to his death.
Multiple award-winning director Michael Menendian, co-founder of the theatre, has been responsible for guiding most of Arthur Miller’s plays to popular and artistic success at Raven. In addition, Chuck Spencer (Joe Keller) and JoAnn Montemurro (Kate Keller) have appeared in many of the productions, as they do here. Mr. Menendian’s work speaks for itself. His stagings are gritty, unflinching and fast-paced, providing audiences with an immediacy and a sharp point-of-view intended by the playwright. In this production, aside from the strange cat-and-mouse pursuance that takes place in the final scene, events unfold leisurely at first, but gradually build momentum, finally snowballing uncontrollably toward the final curtain. Mr. Menendian’s productions can be counted on to be nothing short of brilliant.
His carefully cast ensemble is led by Chuck Spencer and JoAnn Montemurro as Joe and Kate Keller, standouts as a middle-aged married couple, still in love, but privately at odds with one other. These characters, who often bury their true emotions and deep secrets, finally erupt. Their superb performances are matched by the youthful brilliance of handsome Matthew Klingler, as their son Chris, and lovely Jen Short, as girlfriend Ann Deever. These two actors know their craft and completely understand and inhabit their characters. This quartet’s performances, thanks to their collective talent and the skill of a caring, empathetic director, convey both the 1940’s innocence of Miller’s play while still managing to make the play feel contemporary.
Savvy, sensitive supporting performances are turned in by Matt Bartholomew, as concerned neighbor Dr. Jim Bayliss, Kristin Williams as his bad-humored wife Sue, Shane Murray-Corcoran as minutiae-obsessed astrology buff Frank Lubey and Hallie Peterson as his sweet wife Lydia. Greg Caldwell does well in the small, but pivotal role of George Deever and his torn allegiance is tangible. Audiences will understand the anguish this young man must feel.
This dynamic production, helmed by a talented, award-winning director and featuring a cast of artists devoted to bringing to life the work of one of America’s finest playwrights, is a show that must be seen. A period classic, Miller’s play still speaks loudly to today’s world. In this professionally polished production we have play that deserves its place in today’s theatre.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 16-November 15 by Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-338-2177 or by going to www.raventheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.