Theatre Mirror Reviews - "All My Sons"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Carl A. Rossi


by Arthur Miller
directed by David Esbjornson

Dr. Jim Bayliss … Ken Cheeseman
Joe Keller … Will Lyman
Frank Lubey … Owen Doyle
Sue Bayliss … Dee Nelson
Lydia Lubey … Stephanie DiMaggio
Chris Keller … Lee Aaron Rosen
Bert … (1) Andrew Cekala; (2) Spencer Evett
Kate Keller … Karen MacDonald
Ann Deever … Diane Davis
George Deever … Michael Tisdale

The Huntington’s magnificent production of Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS justifies my long-unspoken belief that Boston’s leading theatre should cease its cautious attempts to keep up with the times and become, instead, a Museum of the American Drama, presenting classic and forgotten American plays from the 1920s to the 1950s --- the old-fashioned three-act, one set, fourth-wall kind, done with taste and strictly in period --- not only would such fare satisfy its Old Guard audiences (who ripple like wheat in the wind over obscenities and nudity), but also artists/lovers of the drama who deserve to see it rather than making do with reading it. No doubt these thoughts will fall on deaf Huntington ears, but I shall bang my drum, openly and evermore, out in the wilderness that this is what the Old Girl can and should do; meanwhile, call its box office, won’t you --- two prominent local actors (NOT imported “names”) brilliantly guided by an acclaimed Miller director should be stimulus, enough. (When the applause that ends Act One sounds like the applause heard at curtain call, you know you’re seeing a winner!)

Forget that ALL MY SONS is now considered a forerunner to Mr. Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN and A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE; imagine its original impact in 1947, two years after the Last Good War ended in the bombed-out ruins of Japan and with many Americans putting the past behind them all-too-quickly and wanting to move on --- and Mr. Miller telling his tale of a prosperous mid-West family stained and haunted when national patriotism and personal profiteering went hand in bloody hand (ah, the American way!); ALL MY SONS’ impact still burns, today --- after being devastated by the Huntington production, I consider this Mr. Miller’s true Greek tragedy over SALESMAN, right down to its patriarch entering the temple of his house to meet his offstage destiny. Oh, how it burns --- and how good it feels, right now, to be abrasively scrubbed clean!

David Esbjornson has directed, crisply --- you could snap off the evening, anywhere, like a tobacco leaf from its stalk --- and he has wisely allowed the humorous moments (of which there are many) to flow out naturally rather than to tempt you into escapism (the laughter from the house is that of temporary relief) and Scott Bradley has filled the B.U. barn with a wide-open space that suggests not only the vast mid-West but also a gladitorial arena presided over by unblinking gods. I first encountered Will Lyman through a smooth Shakespearean performance where his radio-voice ruled; since then, his Spock-like presence made him seem more concert artist than actor; as the flawed Joe Keller, Mr. Lyman has withered his voice and stature --- this is a Little Man acting like a Big One, trapped in his own web --- and Mr. Esbjornson has brought more fire out of Mr. Lyman than any I’ve seen, thus far. Mr. Esbjornson has also channeled Karen MacDonald’s bluster into Kate Keller’s pent-up hysteria, making the actress startling and new --- a domestic tragedienne, just born. If what I’ve heard is true --- that American Repertory Theatre has released the last of its resident actors --- then the Huntington has gained immeasurably with Ms. MacDonald in this, her second company-production, this season (and may the bravos that she will receive for her Kate pour balm onto her soul --- the theatre is one of the few outlets where new leases on life can still happen). Several years ago I wrote that it says something about A.R.T. when Ms. MacDonald and the Messrs. Derrah and Lebow are far better actors on other stages, and, yes, I have seen this gifted trio directed to do (and wear) bizarro things on their former turf --- but if you consider their A.R.T. tenure as 120 mph on their artistic speedometer, you can gage how impressive this threesome can be when doing 60 mph, elsewhere. Here, Ms. MacDonald, in a believable dress and hairdo, remaining upright and running through recognizable inflections and gestures is impressive, indeed --- twice, she stops the show, cold, with her Old Testament pronouncements; perhaps Ms. MacDonald should share Mr. Esbjornson’s credit for sparking Mr. Lyman’s ornery flame. (Ms. MacDonald cannot help but be motivated by beginning the evening between waking and nightmare as a surreal film-blend of the Andrew Sisters and WW2 fighter-planes fills that vast, epic sky --- not in the original script --- stunning!)

Lee Aaron Rosen plays the conflicted son in superior musical comedy style --- his fire is clean and wholesome --- as the fiancée at her own crossroads, Diane Davis at first struck me as yet another hard, determined young actress tackling an ingénue role of yesteryear; whether she is or not, such hardness makes her Ann Deever perfectly creditable (a former tomboy turned sweetheart?), sprouting thorns to protect her rose, within --- oh, the audience’s mouth-dropping hush when the Mss. MacDonald and Davis square off, near the end, in that back-yard arena: two big cats in the same cage, finally turning on each other! The supporting roles, supplying neighborhood color (and normalcy), are well-realized and played. Beantown, be proud --- it truly, honestly, sincerely does not get better than this; here or elsewhere. Bravo, Old Girl --- this round, anyway!

And I’m serious about the Museum of American Drama --- the proof is in the current pudding.

"All My Sons" (8 January - 7 February)
Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

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