Friday, October 17, 2008

All My Sons

British director Simon McBurney has staged an intriguing, if at times uneven, revival of All My Sons, Arthur Miller's first successful play, one which features what would become two of his enduring themes -- the effects of capitalism on a person’s soul and the responsibility we have for one another.

Tony Award winner John Lithgow is fabulous as Joe Keller, a business man who survived the scandal that sent his partner to jail, and Patrick Wilson is equally strong as his son, Chris. The show opened last night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

I was less taken by the performance of Dianne Wiest, an actress I generally regard highly for her work on stage and screen. (She won Oscars for two Woody Allen films, “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Bullets Over Broadway.”) While Lithgow and Wilson give powerful, naturalistic performances, hers as Kate, wife of Joe and mother of Chris, is more flat, as if she is portraying a type. Her interpretation of Kate fit in with the expressionistic mood of the production.

This dichotomy is what gives the show an uneven feeling. Tom Pye’s stark set, which consists of little more that a screen door, points toward expressionism and away from the traditional staging of a Miller play. From the beginning when the cast walks on stage with no fanfare and Lithgow announces the name of the play and asks people to turn off their cells, to the final scene when all of the minor characters, who have been sitting passively in the wings watching, come on stage and stand silently on either side, I thought of Our Town; this ending made me think of the cemetery scene in Wilder’s classic. But then there is the recorded chorus singing ominously between the second and third acts that is pure Greek tragedy. In a way it seems as if Lithgow and Wilson had just wandered from a naturalistic play onto the set of one that is experimental -- two characters in search of a play.

But it is also, thank heavens, very much Miller, a playwright I have always loved. Ever the moralist, Miller found his inspiration for this 1947 play from a true story of a successful businessman who knowingly sold the government defective airline parts during World War II, resulting in tragic consequences. The truth comes out in the play as his son prepares to marry his partner’s daughter.

Oh, yes, and about that daughter. Katie Holmes (the third Mrs. Tom Cruise) is not just making her Broadway debut in the role of Ann Deever, she is making her debut on any stage and it shows. She’s far better than Julia Roberts when she made the same leap. In fact she’s fine in the first act when her character is more the sunny girl next door. She seems so at home on stage I would never have suspected it was her first time -- a far cry from Roberts who shook and cowered. It was in the second and third acts when she had to portray raw emotion -- hurt and anger and to break down in tears -- that her inexperience showed.

The original production of All My Sons won the Tony Award for best play and best director (Elia Kazan) and starred Ed Begley and Karl Malden. It was adapted for the screen in 1948 featuring Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster.

In addition to the theatre giants Lithgow and Wiest, this production includes Becky Ann Baker (Sue Bayliss), Christian Camargo (George Deever), Jordan Gelber (Frank Lubey), Danielle Ferland (Lydia Lubey), Damian Young (Dr. Jim Bayliss) and Michael D'Addario (Bert) with Sherman Howard, Clark Jackson, Lizbeth MacKay, Christopher Grey Misa and Danielle Skraastad as the Neighbors. It is scheduled to play a limited engagement through Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009.

Show times are Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is located at 236 W. 45th St.. Tickets, priced $61.50-$116.50, are available through or by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200.

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