ALL MY SONSby Arthur Miller
Directed by David Denson
Set Design by Clare Floyd Devries
Costume Design by Christina Cook
Lighting Design by Jason Foster
Sound Design by Christopher M. Ham
Properties Design by Hannah Law
Stage Management by Caron Gitelman Grant
Dramaturgy by Kyle Eric Bradford
CAST (from reviewed performance)
Joe Keller – Terry Martin
Kate Keller – Diana Sheehan
Chris Keller – Christopher Cassarino
Anne Deever – Tabitha Ray
George Deever – Joey Folsom
Dr. Jim Bayliss – Chris Hury
Sue Bayliss – Jessica Cavanagh
Frank Lubey – Thomas Ward
Lydia Lubey – Katlin Moon-Jones
Bert – Jude Baremore
Reviewed Performance: 4/20/2015
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Give an audience a well-performed, emotionally involving story - the old fashioned “well made play” with a linear storyline, a beginning, middle and end, an American classic with characters that you recognize - and they will sit riveted. That certainly is the case with All My Sons now playing at WaterTower Theatre. The opening night audience rewarded the production with a standing ovation that felt genuine, not polite.
“Everybody knew a lot of illicit fortunes were being made, a lot of junk was being sold to the armed services, we all knew that. All the rules were being violated every day, but you didn’t want to mention it.” – Arthur Miller
In 1944, Arthur Miller’s mother-in-law at the time mentioned a story about a war profiteer whose daughter turned him in to federal officials for selling faulty machinery to the Army. “By the time she had finished the tale, I had transformed the daughter into a son and the climax of the second act was full and clear in my mind,” he wrote in the introduction to a 1957 collection of his plays.
Numerous companies were indicted by the Truman Committee, during this period; the most highly publicized being the indictment of Wright Aeronautical Corp. in Lockland, Ohio. Producing airplane engines, the company was accused of manufacturing leaky, defective ones, falsifying inspections and destroying records to cover up its wrongdoings. Sound familiar? “The facts are that they were turning out phony engines and I have no doubt a lot of kids in training planes have been killed as a result,” Truman said.
Set in the late 1940’s, All My Sons, opened on Broadway on January 29th, 1947, winning the Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Play, and establishing Miller as a new and leading voice in the American Theater. It was directed by a young Elia Kazan, to whom the play is dedicated. It has since become a classic in the American Theatre canon.
The bare bones of the plot are summarized as “set in post-World War II, [it] examines the relationships between fathers and sons and the price of living the American Dream. It’s a play about the conflict between business ethics and taking responsibility for one’s actions.” That, of course, in no way begins to give life to the complexities that are put before the audience.
From online - “Henrik Ibsen’s influence on Miller is evidenced from the Ibsen play The Wild Duck, where . . .one is forced to take moral and legal responsibility for (another). This is mirrored in All My Sons”. The slow unraveling of past events to reveal a moral wrong or sinister crime is also reminiscent of Ibsen.
The play also shows influences of Greek tragedy. The unities of time, place and action have everything happening in a single day in a single place and there is an air of fatalistic tragedy to the writing. A tree onstage symbolic of the son Larry, is never mentioned by the characters as an apple tree, but is specifically mentioned as such in the stage directions. The legend of the apple tree in the Garden of Eden is echoed with its signs of hidden guilt and the fall from innocence.
The staging for this production at WaterTower is a tennis court configuration with seating on two sides across the grassy back yard of the Keller home. On one short end is the back porch while the other end holds a sort of gazebo with seating and a period radio in a protective shell. Both ends are backed by blue cycs. The apple tree stands center stage, a constant reminder of the unseen Larry. Set Designer Clare Floyd Devries chose to go with a skeletal set, realistic in detail yet sketched in at the same time. Grass, plants and architectural detail are realistic while the house is represented by its outline. Overhead, large horizontal banners cross the stage and terminate in leafy treetop cutouts. The banners become a cyc also on which to project color, clouds and leaves. Ms. Devries has created a highly effective space for this drama to unfold.
And unfold it does. In a prologue created by the director that recalls a prologue used in a recent London production, we experience a storm, see the mother Kate enter from the house, and witness the destruction of the apple tree. It is a highly exciting way to begin the play, even if a blackout during the storm lasts a little longer than artistically necessary. The event is later described by son Chris to his father Joe.
After the dramatic opening, Director David Denson chooses to let time pass lazily as Joe and neighbor Dr. Bayliss sit comfortably, reading the Sunday paper. In the hands of other actors, this long, silent opening might become uncomfortable, yet Terry Martin and Chris Hury manage to fill the atmosphere with quiet naturalism simply by their presence and concentration.
“Bert, on my word of honor, there’s a jail in the basement.” – Joe
In the role of Joe, the patriarch and figure around which so much revolves, Terry Martin creates a multi-faceted, very human man; flawed and yet admirable in many ways. Joe is a self-made man, a successful business owner who has defeated the suspicions of his neighbors to rebuild a career. Playing a man of practicality and pragmatism, Mr. Martin manages to make Joe take up more physical space on stage than usual and seems to even plant himself with more weight in this backyard he calls home. His body and face reflect the action with subtle shades of emotion, every passing event painting another aspect of this simple yet complex man.
Mr. Martin shows us Joe’s humanity in how he interacts with his son, his wife and the child Bert. All of his warm, seemingly normal behavior makes Joe’s downfall at the end of the play even more devastating. When he briefly breaks down in the third act, speaking of his son Larry, the guilt and grief are clearly presented by Mr. Martin’s emotional physical manifestation. When he laughingly teases young Bert about a jail in the basement, the irony of that joke comes back later to haunt him. Mr. Martin deftly shows that what Joe keeps locked in the basement jail of his own life is dangerous indeed.
“There’s no jail here.” “Because certain things have to be, and certain things can never be. …That’s why there’s God….so certain things can never happen.” – Kate
Diana Sheehan plays Kate, a woman determined to believe and convince everyone else that her son Larry is still alive. She speaks of it constantly and even counts on a horoscope reading that tells her he couldn’t have died because it was his favorable day. This, and her gradual knowledge of Joe’s wrong doing, has driven her to live a desperate life. The tension under which she operates is evident in every tight gesture and stance Ms. Sheehan strikes. While her eyes may get a little too wild at times, the coiled energy she brings to the role is like a spring under pressure ready to release and fly at a moment’s notice. Kate’s progression is made more wrenching by Ms Sheehan as her composure gradually and then suddenly falls apart. There are moments when her actions and emotions reflect pain almost impossible to watch. Her face becomes a ravaged wasteland of grief and despair. The jail door has been flung open and the monsters are loose.
Ann Deever, daughter of Joe’s partner and former fiancée of Larry, is played by Tabitha Ray. Of the major characters in the play, Ann’s role is perhaps the most problematic. She carries very important information until the very end of the play, a sort of deus ex machina, another use of Greek theater. Somehow, we never get to know her as we know the other characters. Ms. Ray does what she can with the role, looking the part and playing the ingénue while still managing to communicate some hidden depth through reactions and inflections. Much of the time she seems at a loss as to what to do with her hands, but this is not a serious distraction. When the chips are down in the third act, Ms. Ray pulls it all together in a powerful presentation of pain, determination and love, becoming more confident in her physical movement and the use of her voice. The chemistry between Ms. Ray and Mr. Cassarino also helps in the believability of her character, the two of them playing off each other with real affection.
In the key role of Chris Keller is newcomer to the Dallas theater scene, Christopher Cassarino. Mr. Cassarino grabs the audience from the moment he steps on stage with a presence that demands your attention merely by his being there. At intermission and after the show the constant buzz was “Who IS that guy?!” Mr. Cassarino never misses a beat. His focus and intention is laser sharp and his connection with the other actors is reflected over and over again throughout the play. His and Joe’s father-son relationship is crystal clear, with a heartwarming ease and familiarity that makes the final revelation even more devastating. His delivery of “I know you’re no worse than most men but…I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father.” will crush you with the truth of the statement. The big confrontation between the two men at the end of act two is a difficult scene to pull off, but Mr. Cassarino has no problem making the realization of his father’s actions hit hard. His entire body reacts to the weight of the revelation.
The relationship with his mother is no less powerful, the affection and love Chris feels reflected in Mr. Cassarino’s body language and his every glance. His protective attitude is shown in his constant checking to see where she is and how she is reacting.
Mr. Cassarino also plays a truthful attraction and love for Ann while gingerly showing some discomfort in that she was his brother’s fiancée. The character has to say, “I love you,” three times in succession in one speech and Mr. Cassarino finds a way to do it that is real and charming and funny all at once. His is a strong, confident, heartbreaking performance, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of his work soon.
Chris Hury plays Dr. Jim Bayliss and, as usual, Mr. Hury turns in a well-tuned, believable characterization. He always knows why his character is on stage and what his action is at that moment in the script. Unfortunately, Dr. Bayliss’ beautiful speech in Act Three is delivered facing upstage to Kate on the porch and none of the audience really gets to take in one of the key points Mr. Miller is making. The doctor says, “…every man does have a star. The star of one’s honesty. And you spend your life groping for it, but once it’s out it never lights again. I don’t think he went very far. He probably just wanted to be alone to watch his star go out.” Too bad that lovely bit of writing wasn’t more prominently staged.
As Dr. Bayliss’ wife Sue, Jessica Cavanagh takes what might have been a smaller role and manages to create a full-drawn character by her stance, her line readings and her layers of reactions, creating a neat little history of just who this woman is. Thomas Ward as neighbor Frank Lubey and Katlin Moon-Jones as his wife Lydia each get their moment to shine. Mr. Ward plays the rather comedic horoscope enthusiast and makes him believable by fully committing to the character’s interest and communicating his complete faith in what he has discovered.
Ms. Moon-Jones takes the somewhat air-headed character of Lydia and, in one brief scene with Ann’s brother George, creates a whole back story to suddenly make her much more interesting than first thought. Her physical and vocal demeanor changes to an entirely different side of the character we didn’t know existed.
Joey Folsom is George Deever, Ann’s brother and son to Joe’s partner. His is not an easy role either. He comes on stage angry and determined to confront Joe or anybody else about the truth of his father’s actions. The guilt George feels about his neglect of his father, along with the anger as the truth sets in, is revealed in every gesture and physical stance Mr. Folsom assumes. George is a slight man who gains stature through his righteous actions and Mr. Folsom communicates that clearly. His complete change in character is beautiful to watch as Mr. Folsom sees Lydia enter. He and Ms. Moon-Jones suddenly present a whole little one-act play about who these two were to each other in the past. It’s a stunning scene to watch and Mr. Folsom’s performance and skill make it memorable.
Jude Baremore plays Bert, the young boy who comes running in a couple of times to play policeman with Joe. Mr. Baremore was both natural and relaxed, fully believable in his behavior and actions.
Lighting by Jason Foster believably and artistically journeys from early day to afternoon to deepest night using the two cycs, the overhead banners, gobos, subtle colors and intensity changes to set the atmospheric mood for each act. Sound Designer Christopher M. Ham uses the onstage old-fashioned radio to treat us to late 40’s music and announcements. Other sound effects of the storm, gunshot, etc are also effectively created. The only complaint is a tad too high volume levels for the background music at the top of Act Three. Costume Designer Christina Cook has put together pieces that look naturalistic for the time period, including two dresses for Ann that are bright and eye-catching. All the actors seem comfortable and at home in what they wear and the choices tell something about who these people are. Properties and set décor by Hannah Law are unobtrusively right and complete the period feel.
Director David Denson has taken an American classic and lovingly molded it into a strong, heart-grabbing production. The acting style is highly naturalistic which makes each inevitable revelation more poignant. We can’t help but identify. Movement on the long narrow space is done in interesting ways and never seems forced. I particularly liked the first “love scene” between Chris and Ann that is blocked so the apple tree is between them the entire time. Mr. Denson also knows how to pace the show so that the actors earn their moments. He leads the action with the skill of a music conductor, knowing exactly when each change in tempo and volume should occur, making every beat clear. The long quiet moments support and make way for the pay off in the tense, frantic, dramatic ones that come later.
All My Sons is about money. Every character talks about it, justifies the pursuit of it and feels the effects in that pursuit. Even idealistic Chris says, “I’m gonna make a fortune for you Annie!” The play is about family. The relationship fathers have with sons, sons with mothers, and the pursuit of making a family. Mostly, it’s about the choices we make, the practical vs. the humanitarian, the family over the world. Joe keeps saying, “I did it all for you!” None of it is easy, but it’s all worth discussion and makes for one hell of an evening in the theater.
All My Sons should easily be a crowd favorite. The audience becomes intensely involved during the play and then has things to think and talk about after they leave. WaterTower is to be congratulated for bringing this classic back to life in a splendid production.
15650 Addison Road
Addison, TX 75001
Runs through May 10th
Wednesday – Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday – Saturday at 8:00pm, and Sunday 2:00pm
Additional performances on Saturday, May 2nd and May 9th at 2:00pm
Tickets range from $25.00 to $40.00, with $3.00 discounts Wednesday-Friday for seniors and students.