Sunday, July 31, 2016

ALL MY SONS - REVIEW OF 2016 STRATFORD FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

James Karas
Joe Keller
Kate Keller
Chris Keller
Ann Deever
George Deever
Dr. Jim Bayliss
Sue Bayliss
Frank Lubey
Lydia Lubey
Joseph Ziegler
Lucy Peacock
Tim Campbell
 Sarah Afful                             
Michael Blake  
E.B. Smith       
Lanise Antoine Shelley             
Rodrigo Beilfuss
Jessica B. Hill
Director Martha Henry, Set Designer Douglas Paraschuk, Costumes Designer Dana Osborne, Lighting Designer Louise Guinard, Sound Designer Todd Charlton, Fight Director John Stead
Continues at the Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London, England.   

*** (out of five)

The timing for the Strafford Festival’s production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons could not be more apposite even if it was unintentional. In the midst of an ugly presidential race, a large number of Americans are supporting Donal Trump because he is a businessman as if that were a virtue far above anything that experienced politicians can offer. Anyone that has amassed a personal fortune worth billions of dollars and promises to make America great again must be good for the country.

All My Sons looks at business, profits, wealth, morality and corruption in 1946 America and, ironically, in Ohio where the celebration of Trump’s success in business was rewarded with his nomination for the presidency of the United States a couple of weeks ago.
 
Joseph Ziegler as Joe Keller in All My Sons. Photography by David Hou.
Joe Keller is an American success story. He owns a factory that manufactures airplane parts for the American Air Force during World War II. His factory ships some defective cylinders that cause the death of 21 pilots. Joe’s partner is convicted and jailed. Joe gets off scot-free because he was not at work on the day the cylinders were made and shipped. That is the basic plot on which this morality tale is built.

Martha Henry directs a fine production of this American classic with a few problems in the process. Ziegler’s Joe Keller is successful but he clearly has something weighing on him. We see that weight get heavier as the truth creeps out and his love of family, excuses and bombast can no longer sustain him. We see his tragedy evolve slowly and inexorably in a superb performance by Ziegler.

Joe’s wife Kate is the most interesting, complex and sympathetic character in the play. Her son Larry was reported missing in the war and she cannot accept that fact. She even asks her neighbour Frank, an amateur astrologer, to check her son’s stars to see if the day of his death was a lucky day for him. Kate knows a great deal more than she reveals and we know that she knows as well. She has built a wall made of lies, self-delusion and wishful thinking that holds the audience riveted to her emotional state and her fate. Lucy Peacock has a very distinctive voice that has a singular tinge and I find it highly effective in most of her roles but it struck me as ineffective at certain moments. I cannot explain why. 
 
Lucy Peacock as Kate Keller in All My Sons. Photography by David Hou.
Their son Chris is in love with his late brother’s girlfriend and he has invited her over to the Keller house in order to ask her to marry him. She is in love with him as well. Chris is a sensitive young man with a sense of morality and responsibility. He will be brought to face his father’s true character. Tim Campbell is miscast for the role. He looks like a football player and has a voice that promises a touchdown in the next quarter. He does get quite dramatic when he confronts his father and his own morality but overall he is in the wrong role.

Sarah Afful as Ann, the daughter of Joe’s partner who went to jail for the defective cylinders, is a woman in love who does not want to see or confront the truth about her father’s fate. Michael Blake as her brother George is full of fire and anger as he returns to his old neighbourhood where he knew happiness. He also knows the truth.

Miller provides neighbours in Dr Bayliss and his wife Sue as well as Frank and Lydia who recall the wonderful community of the past before the war, greed and criminality ruined it.

The play is performed in the Tom Patterson Theatre which is turned literally into a theatre-in-the-round with seats on all sides. The stage resembles the backyard of a well-to-do man.

Henry adds a scene at the beginning where a sleepless Kate is in the yard and witnesses the storm and lightning that fells the tree that was planted in memory of her dead son.

The play builds to the dramatic and tragic climax reasonably well but one wishes there was more utter shock than drama.     
  ________
 All My Sons by Arthur Miller continues in repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca

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