Review by Brittany Crowell
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is the weighty American theater classic about generational differences, family, sacrifice, integrity and the “American Dream.” Unfortunately, Roundabout’s newest revival, directed by Jack O’Brien, isn’t able to carry the full weight of one of Miller’s more popular plays.
It is 1947, post-World War II Ohio. The older generation is working to pass on a better world to their children, while their children are working to patch themselves up after the fighting overseas, and the Keller family, well-off owners of a metal factory, are forced to face the truth behind the disappearance of their second son, Larry.
There is something about the Kellers that draws you in, that makes you want to believe: “People like to do things for the Kellers. Been that way since I can remember.” However, actors Annette Bening and Tracy Letts are missing the warmth that endears the audience to this family’s most powerful players and allows the play’s tragic ending to hit home.
Bening’s Kate was desperate and manic from her first moment onstage, rarely reaching the maternal warmth that attracts everyone to her. Living within the chaos throughout the play, we missed the full density of the play’s tragic ending, as Kate seemed to be foreshadowing it all along.
Letts’ performance of Joe Keller, the play’s antihero, was reserved and defensive, focusing more on the strength and stubbornness of the character than the charisma and deep love that encourages a forgiveness and blindness to his faults.
Neither of these performances were helped by O’Brien’s blocking, which enclosed characters in small areas of the set, moved them excessively around scenic obstacles, and created mostly upstage leaning lines, obstructing audience view rather than enhancing the dance that Miller’s characters are making around each other and (for some) the truth.
One standout of the piece that deserves praise is the performance of Hampton Fluker as George. Fluker moved through cycles of anguish and childish giddiness with sense and ease. From the minute he walked into the space, his body held the weight of his character, a love for the Kellers at odds with a loyalty for his father.
Also worth mentioning are the designers for the piece. Douglas W. Schmidt held nothing back in building out the back façade of the Keller house, backyard, and neighborhood. The costumes by Jane Greenwood were beautiful and brought us immediately into the world of both time and character. Lighting designer Natasha Katz brought us from thunderstorm to morning, through twilight, and into night with seamless beauty. And sound designer John Gromada created a soundscape that spoke of new life and rebirth, with sounds of children playing and birds chirping, but also included the occasional fly-over of a plane, reminding us of the constant underlying tension in the neighborhood.
O’Brien’s All My Sons doesn’t add new insight to the classic. Though still incredibly relevant to today’s audiences, the piece feels aged and dated in this production and doesn’t find a full life.
ALL MY SONS – by Arthur Miller; directed by Jack O’Brien
WITH: Annette Bening (Kate Keller); Tracy Letts (Joe Keller); Benjamin Walker (Chris Keller); Francesca Carpanini (Ann Deever); Hampton Fluker (George Deever); Michael Hayden (Dr. Jim Bayliss); Jenni Barber (Lydia Lubey); Alexander Bello (Bert); Monte Greene (Bert); Nehal Joshi (Frank Lubey); Chinasa Ogbuagu (Sue Bayliss); Tony Carlin (us. Joe Keller/Jim Bayliss); Matthew Goodrich (us. Chris Keller); Anne Lange (us. Kate Keller/Sue Bayliss); DeShawn Harold Mitchell (us. George Deever/Frank Lubey)); Georgia Warner (us. Ann Deever/Lydia Lubey)
Sets by Douglas W. Schmidt; costumes by Jane Greenwood; lighting by Natasha Katz; sound by John Gromada; video and projection by Jeff Sugg; hair and wig by Tom Watson; original music by Bob James; vocal coaching by Kate Wilson; fight direction by Steve Rankin; production stage manager, Tripp Phillips; production management by Aurora Productions; casting by Jim Carnahan and Carrie Gardner; general management by Denise Cooper. Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, artistic director; Julia C. Levy, executive director; Sydney Beers, general manager; Steve Dow, chief administrative officer. At the American Airlines Theater (227 W 42nd St); 212-719-1300; www.roundabouttheatre.org. Through June 23. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.