Playwright: Arthur Miller
At: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. Tickets: 773-753-4472; CourtTheatre.org; $44-$74. Runs through: Feb. 11
Director Charles Newell has assembled several of Chicago's most powerful actorsnotably, John Judd, Kate Collins and Timothy Edward Kane as Joe, Kate and Chris Keller, respectivelyand then reined them in, never letting them cut loose with the deep, dark ferocity they have demonstrated in other roles. Emotions are tempered because Newell doesn't want us swept up in the passions of All My Sons or, heaven forbid, to pity its characters. Instead, Newell wants us to understand them and to clearly comprehend the ideas and moral values of Arthur Miller's 1947 play. His production unquestionably achieves this goal.
The timeless tale is about how the sins of fathers impact offspring. Its specific context is 1946 post-WWII America where small industrialist Joe Keller ( Judd ) grew rich producing airplane parts. When faulty merchandise caused the deaths of 21 fighter pilots, Joe's partner alone went to prison even though Joe was complicit. Joe's older sonalso a pilotwent MIA in 1943 and Joe's wife, Kate ( Collins ), deludes herself that he's still alive. Chris ( Kane ), their surviving son, is heir-presumptive to the business and wants to marry Ann ( Heidi Kettenring ), who was his brother's fiancé and is the daughter of the disgraced partner. A storm erupts when family loyalties are tested and secrets come out, especially when Ann's brother ( Dan Waller ) shows up defending his father.
Arguably, All My Sons is Miller's most classical play, influenced by Henrik Ibsen's 19th-century moral dramas. Newell's production also strongly invokes Greek tragedy, so much of which concerns terrible retributions by children against parents. John Culbert's scenic design is a Greek theatre of sorts, with a gently-sloping patio of six steps replacing the circular Greek orchestra. Standing at the center of the wide Court Theatre stage, it's the only place action occurs.
On this platform, Newell often positions his actors in straight lines or in nearly frozen tableauxversus realistic physical groupingsto deliver the text, which fortunately never becomes declamatory. The secondary charactersthe Kellers' neighborsfrequently stand formally on each side of the patio as witnesses, as a Greek chorus might do, their presence reminding the audience to listen, observe and take note for this is us. Miller always wrote about the fabric of society, not merely the individual story illustrating his ideas.
The line earning the most audible audience response comes late in the play when Chris, in an anguished confrontation with Joe, says, "I thought you were better. I didn't see you as a man, I saw you as my father." Some sons grow up early, others late. Some have a father in the White House and we question whether father or sons have grown up at all. Take note: This is us.