No singing, no dancing, just story and actors, plus some fine tech work, mark Repertory Theatre St. Louis’ remarkable current offering. It was the breakthrough play for Arthur Miller’s career, beating out The Iceman Cometh for a Tony in its 1947 debut. Like so much of Miller’s work, it talks about crumbling families and the crumbling of the American Dream.
So, yes, it’s no comedy. It’s set in 1947 at the home of Joe Keller, a factory owner. One son was MIA in the war; the surviving one, Chris, who also served, works with his father. The son has fallen in love with his brother’s girlfriend Ann, who once lived next door. This presents two problems, though. One is that the boys’ mother believes that the son is still alive.
The other is more complicated. The girl’s father, once a partner at the factory, is in jail for selling shoddy airplane engines to the government during the war. Both men, in fact, were jailed for that, but Joe’s conviction was overturned on appeal, he came home and resumed work. (Missouri connection here: The Senate committee that actually investigated such things and did yeoman work was headed by our own Harry S Truman. It probably got him the vice-presidential nomination and we know what happened after that. Miller said he based the play on a newspaper clipping about a real case from that committee.) Ann believes her father to be guilty and both she and her brother George have cut off all contact with him.
John Woodson is Joe Keller, a carefully, yea, exquisitely underplayed role of the pater familias. He’d do anything for his boys. Margaret Daly, Joe’s wife, Kate, is clearly sure that her son is alive and it drives her. Daly’s sweet mom is almost Jane Wyatt-esque in her serenity; her zingers might pass unnoticed, but not in Daly’s portrayal.
Patrick Ball’s Chris, the surviving son, is splendid. His work with Ann, Mairin Lee, is particularly good, and the two of them exquisitely portray a couple who have waited for each other for a long time. That’s not to say that Lee’s role is a purely supporting one – she has her own painful push and pull with which to deal.
Among the supporting cast, a tip of the hat to Jim Ireland, who plays the doctor next door. His Dr. Bayliss is an interesting mix of idealism and sarcasm. And another nod in the direction of Ana Mc Alister, who plays Bert, a young one from nearby who’s absolutely delightful – and quite audible, thank you, not always the case with relative newcomers to the stage.
The Rep’s associate artistic director Seth Gordon directed this excellent piece of work. It’s a wonderful set from Michael Ganio, and Peter Sargent’s lighting showcases the actors as well as the set perfectly. And was that Benny Goodman that sound designer Rusty Wandall gave us to start things off? Perfect.
A crackerjack piece of work that builds to an emotional close, with complex characters and their questions.
All My Sons
through January 29
Repertory Theatre St. Louis
Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts
130 Edgar Rd., Webster Groves