Civic's'All My Sons'still relevant
Strong cast brings Arthur Miller classic to life at Towsley Auditorium
Some of the strongest scenes take place between father and son as they attempt to sort out issues of guilt and blame and come to terms with events of the past.
BY ROGER LELIEVRE
News Arts Writer
Two words - tense and timely - perfectly describe Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s early drama “All My Sons,” which opened Thursday night at Washtenaw Community College’s Towsley Auditorium.
The show, solidly acted and deftly directed by Jeff Meyers, slowly turns up the heat, bringing long-simmering family issues and, by extension, more global concerns to a boil.
And “All My Sons” is timely because it confronts issues of responsibility and ethics that occupy our society as much now as in 1948, the year in which the play is set.
“Sons,” Miller’s first hit and a Pulitzer Prize-winner, tells the story of Joe Keller (Dan Zelazny), involved in a scandal during World War II whereby defective aircraft parts were passed as fit for use, causing the deaths of 21 fliers.
Keller was acquitted when a court placed the blame on a business partner; however, the
shadow of the case still hangs over those involved.
As the show opens, nearly four years after the war has ended, the Kellers’ oldest son, also a pilot, is still missing and presumed dead by everyone except Kate (Wendy Wright), Joe’s wife. Keller’s surviving son, Chris (Brian Harcourt), has joined his dad in business and has his heart set on marrying Ann (Denene Pollock) - his brother’s fiancee and son of the now-jailed partner - much to the dismay of Ann’s brother George (Sean Sabo).
Complicated stuff, for sure. As the story builds to its emotional climax, all involved give powerful performances, wringing the most out of Miller’s dramatic words.
Some of the strongest scenes take place between father and son as they attempt to sort out issues of guilt and blame and come to terms with events of the past. Zelazny is letter-perfect as a man who has deluded himself into a kind of easygoing peace with the past, at least on the surface. But even he can’t deny - and even ultimately take responsibility for - his actions during the war.
As his idealistic son, Harcourt comes fully alive as he realizes the truth about his father and his wartime profiteering. As he listens to his father attempting to justify how he sent an innocent man to jail, Harcourt’s face reveals a sea of conflicted emotions.
Wright, looking careworn and vaguely out of touch with reality, is marvelous in her role as the mother who never gives up hope her son is alive. Sabo seems barely able to contain his anger as he challenges Chris to face the truth about his dad.
Other cast members also deliver strong performances, including Sandy Ryder as next-door neighbor Sue, David Keren as neighboring doctor Jim Bayliss, and youngster Conner LaPorte, who acts every inch a seasoned pro during his short appearance in the first act, looking cute as a button in a policeman’s hat.
There couldn’t be a more appropriate time than now to revisit Miller’s work, as newspaper headlines report on no-bid military contracts and ill-equipped American troops in Iraq. “Time passes,” the program accurately notes, “but, not surprisingly, history repeats.” Nor is there a better time to consider the increasingly quaint notion of taking responsibility for one’s actions. Again, current events and corporate scandals bear out the truism that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Miller’s subsequent successes, in particular “Death of a Salesman” written two years later, may have overshadowed “All My Sons,” and that’s a pity. This is a riveting show, its messages driven solidly home by Civic Theatre’s production.
"All My Sons"continues at 8 p.m. tonight-Saturday and 2 p.m.
Sunday at Towsley Auditorium at Washtenaw Community College, 4800 E. Huron River Dr. Tickets are available at the A2CToffice, 322 W. Ann St., or by calling (734) 971 -2228 or visiting www.a2ct.org.