“All My Sons” is a powerful story of fathers and sons and money and morality. Arthur Miller wrote “All My Sons” shortly after WWII and in it he exposed a tarnished American Dream. The play opened this week at Camelot Theatre and speaks directly to today’s fractured national psyche, where self-interest and decency collide.
Business partners Joe Keller and Steve Deever knowingly shipped defective airplane parts that caused 21 planes to crash. Deever took the fall and went to jail while Keller was exonerated and became wealthy. Their children though are caught in their fathers’ sins of deception and cowardice, and as adults must face the truth that confronts them.
“All My Sons” demonstrates the human capacity to survive, to try to bear what is otherwise impossible to imagine. Death, wartime loss, betrayal — in “All My Sons,” these deep seated pains are hidden away just beneath the surface. If the play’s tormented characters can even hope to endure, the pains must be painted over with some semblance of normalcy. This distortion of reality, this human conflict is apparent from the moment one steps into the theater.
Mark Schneider’s direction of “All My Sons” brings this unique and conflicting vision to “All My Sons,” especially evident in set design and sound. Waiting for the performance to begin, the audience hears discordant music filled with percussive notes, groans and saws that make us anxious and almost irritable. The set is outsized, deliberately out of proportion. The white clapboard house and picket fence are caricatures and during the performance the sounds of nature — birds chirping and frogs croaking — highlight the emotions played out on stage. The neighborhood on stage is a backdrop for projections of Lyonel Feininger’s abstract, geometrical paintings in a palette of pinks and oranges and green.
There’s something off, something not right here and in the watching, one has an urge to correct an ill-defined, unknown wrong.
As Kate Keller, Gwen Overland trembles with the force of her belief that her missing son Larry still lives and to suggest otherwise invites anger and denial. She is sick though at the darkness, words not spoken, truths not acknowledged. Peter Alzado’s performance as the working class Joe Keller is outstanding, complete with suspenders, a broad weather-beaten face and his hail-fellow-well-met attitude.
Kate and Joe try desperately to keep their dreams alive, with Joe determined to ensure the continuation of his business earned at such cost. Their surviving son Chris, played by Dayvin Turchiano, is ever hopeful, always cheerful and loved by all. His darkness is the loss of his men in battle, men who were his family, his fellows. Overland, Alzado and Turchiano are compelling in their roles, the strength of their performance swaying perception even in the face of exposure.
Other characters in “All My Sons” revolve around the Kellers, seeing more clearly the reality and costs of Joe’s wartime actions, of Kate’s beliefs and Chris’ goodness. Emanuelle Bains as Ann Deever only infrequently reveals an Australian accent as she is pulled into and out of the Kellers’ fictions. Richard Heller as Jim Bayliss, Mig Windows as Sue Bayliss and Erny Rosales as George Deever serve as a Greek chorus of sorts bringing reality to the forefront throughout with an honesty and directness and humility of performance that is a pleasure to see.
It takes strength and courage to speak the truth, to acknowledge the darkness in the souls of these players. It requires personal honesty and courage to admit to wrongdoing, to accept fault and to forgive. It is a question each character in “All My Sons” must ask and answer.
“All My Sons” continues through November 12, 2017 with performances on November 4, 5, 9-12. Performances begin at 8 p.m., 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets run $18-$34 and are available by phone to 541-535-5250 or online at www.CamelotTheatre.org.
— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.