All My Sons
Anyone disappointed by the star-studded but emotionally inert 2008 Broadway revival of All My Sons should head up to Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, Mass. to see how genuinely thrilling and cathartic Arthur Miller’s play can be.
True, the work is a slightly overwrought potboiler, but Barrington Stage Company artistic director Julianne Boyd crafts this All My Sons with a clear grasp of Miller’s intended naturalism, and a strong sense of the inevitable forward motion of the piece. The production builds with a palpable intensity to the shattering finale, providing a satisfyingly theatrical sucker punch.
The play itself is a bit of a conundrum. The plot involves a series of rueful revelations about a businessman and his family, and the secrets that lie beneath the seemingly upright nature of the central figure, Joe Keller (Jeff McCarthy). On the one hand, the play is superbly crafted. Miller doesn’t launch directly into the drama, but rather establishes a general sense of foreboding. As the play develops, each revelation comes along just when it needs to. But the play comes off as overly tidy. The interconnections among the various characters are a bit too convenient, making the action seem rigged.
Even so, it’s a hell of a ride, and Boyd makes the most of the piece with a cast that, for the most part, honors the complexity and truth of Miller’s characterizations. In particular, Lizbeth Mackay as Kate Keller, Joe’s long-suffering wife, is nothing less than outstanding, evincing a satisfying mixture of steely resolve and emotional fragility. Also compelling and convincing are Josh Clayton as Chris, the Keller’s one remaining son, and Rebecca Brooksher as Ann Deever, sweetheart to both Chris and his brother, Larry, who may or may not have died during World War II.
In the central role of Joe, McCarthy is slightly less successful, but only slightly. The very thing that made the actor so perfect as Officer Lockstock in Urinetown tends to work against him in All My Sons. As a performer, McCarthy has a certain archness to him, a heightened sense of reality that acts as a sort of built-in alienation device. Nevertheless, he is able to achieve just enough realism in his performance to prevent him throwing off the balance of this production. In fact, McCarthy’s look of tragic resignation at the climax of the show acts as a sort of silent tribute to the tragic figure of the working man that sits at the very core of Miller’s body of work.