Set in 1946, Arthur Miller’s seminal All My Sons chronicles the impact of World War II on two American families living a small town, but not in the way that one might expect. Set against the backdrop of a young woman, Anne Deever, returning home from New York City to marry her lover’s (Larry Keller) brother (Chris Keller, who also fought in the war) around three years after Larry disappeared in combat, Keller family “secrets,” or at least unspoken truths, are revealed – truths that impact the past, present, and future of the Deever and Keller families. Questions of obligation (whether to family, business, or to country), the pursuit of the American dream, and love/loss are explored with nuanced language in this compelling drama, brought to life by the Keegan Theatre in Washington, DC.
Though slow to get going, Arthur Miller’s play has a big payoff at the end. Under the commendable direction of Susan Marie Rhea, the tensions between the characters simmer slowly and then suddenly explode when all involved must face current and past realities, which leaves all of them pondering where to go from there. Rhea, to her credit, makes obvious the long-standing connections between all of the families in a quintessential American neighborhood, which allows for the powerful climax in Act III to be even more gut-wrenching.
Thanks to some fine ensemble acting, the connections between all of the characters are both believable and natural, a necessary ingredient to successfully executing such a character-driven play. Although most of the adult ensemble members demonstrate solid and grounded acting skills, several of them have standout moments which deserve particular mention. Their performances alone are reason enough to see this play.
As patriarch Joe Keller, Kevin Adams is the very definition of a classic family man. He has an incredible acting moment when he finally realizes the business decision he made so many years ago had many more life/death consequences than he previously considered. As he grieves for not only his son, but other World War II fighters, his array of complex emotions is palpable, but is never overplayed to the point where his anguish comes off more as “camp” than reality. He achieves a remarkable balance.
Kevin Hasser (as Chris Keller) offers a relatable “boy next door” portrayal of someone trying to make sense of his past while seeking to move forward with his post-war life. Hasser has a touching chemistry with his parents (including Sherri S. Harren who gives a quite good performance as “every mom” Kate Keller) and his lover throughout the play; he makes it consistently obvious that Chris does very much very much love them. For that reason, his agony in the final moments of the play over what to do when truths about his father’s past are revealed is all the more realistic.
Brianna Letourneau’s sweet, innocent and charming take on Anne Deevers is also one of the main reasons why this production works. Letourneau internalizes the not-so-obvious complexities of her ingénue character, but at the same time allows the audience to immediately understand who she is as a person and why she is very much loved by Chris and his family. Whether discussing her love for Chris, her complicated relationship with her own family, or the secret she’s been holding close about what happened to Larry in the war, she organically delivers all of her lines and demonstrates a solid understanding of how Anne is linked to all of the drama that unfolds during the course of the play – even in ways most of the other characters (at the time) don’t realize.
The creative team effectively utilizes the small Church Street Theater space to present this play in a way I’ve not seen them do before. Mark Johnson’s appropriate, yet impressive and expansive set (complete with a white picket fence) reminds the audience that the story takes place in a non-descript yard/house in “any town” America and adds to the idea that this could be any family, anywhere. The set encompasses every inch of the stage. Erin Nugent’s costumes are time-period appropriate and also reflect the characters’ small town roots and modest means. Tony Angelini’s sound design, Stephanie P. Freed’s lighting design, and Matt Rippetoe’s original music are minimal, yet professional and contribute to the mood of the piece.