Chicago Theatre Review
Court Theatre’s ‘All My Sons’ a bold, terrifying look at American empire
All My Sons – Court Theatre
What a mad act of courage it was for Arthur Miller to write “All My Sons.” It’s the late 1940s, and the United States is drunk on its successes from World War II. Endless, overblown titles – “Leader of the Free World” most notable among them – populate the American lexicon, and there is a general understanding that the U.S. is now the world’s dominate power, both militarily and culturally. Yet amidst that outpouring of patriotic further, Miller decides to write “All My Sons,” a furious blast of a play that questions not only the moral purity of the American war effort, but also the implications of American empire and global dominance. And courtesy of Court Theatre, Chicago audiences now have a terrific staging of Miller’s brave work, which is more relevant now than ever.
Set in a small middle-America town, “All My Sons” operates on four levels – as a tale of small-town politics, blossoming love, post-traumatic stress, and American ambition. Joe Keller (the always terrific John Judd) is a successful owner of a manufacturing plant, which he co-manages with his son, Chris (Court regular Timothy Edward Kane). Although Joe sees himself as a pillar of the community, his reputation is stained by a wartime scandal that involved his plant shipping tampered parts for American war planes, which resulted in the deaths of 21 pilots; Joe escaped conviction, but his old business partner has been behind bars for years.
Meanwhile, Chris, a World War II veteran, has invited Ann (Heidi Kettenring) to his family’s home with the intention of asking her hand for marriage. Complicating matters is that Ann used to be the love of Chris’ brother, who died in the war – although Chris’ mother, Kate (the amazing Kate Collins), refuses to believe he is dead, and spends her days waiting for a surprise return with increasing desperation.
Like Miller’s best plays, “All My Sons” reveals itself slowly, gradually peeling back the layers of its idyllic small town to expose to horrifying soul operating it all. John Culbert’s virtuosic scenic design goes a long way to capturing this sense of dread. The Keller’s house, yellow and large and beautiful, is set in the middle of the stage, with a long set of steps extending towards the audience. On either side of the home are trees, but not ordinary trees; rather, these are phantasmagorical trees, tentacles that threaten to envelope the Keller family home and destroy its seemingly idyllic life. The developments that do lead to their destruction – and the remarkable acting by Collins, Kane, and Judd that propel them – will not be revealed here. But I will reiterate that the America today – an America engaged in wars with seven different countries, an America with military presence in hundreds of countries, an America that has (courtesy of the invasion of Iraq and sponsorship of wars in Syria and Yemen) destabilized an entire region – this is the very same America that concerned Miller in 1947, and I applaud Court for staging a play that speaks to what America is, not the propaganda that many would like it to be.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through Feb. 11 by Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637
Tickets are available by calling 773-753-4472 or by visiting http://www.courttheatre.org/.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.