All My Sons by Arthur Miller – Raven Playhouse – Wasatch Theatrical Ventures – Los Angeles Theater
ALL MY PRAISE
by Tony Frankel
published July 5, 2010
All My Sons
now playing in Los Angeles (North Hollywood) at The Raven
through July 25
All My Sons, now showing in a red-hot
production at the Raven Playhouse, is Arthur Miller’s seminal 1946 work about a seemingly functional all-American family with secrets that
threaten to crack its very foundation.
The time may be WWII, but the themes are shockingly contemporary: profiteering, lack of integrity, deceit, and
judgment. (Miller even takes on the Military Industrial Complex long before Eisenhower even warned of its existence.) American consumption
as we know it was well under way, and the Keller family in All My Sons will learn the price they
must pay for the “money-money-money-money” earned for things they probably never needed. Miller warns us that addiction to familial comfort
leads to emotional and spiritual discomfort; this, in turn, threatens to eviscerate the comfortable American family.
Thus we open curtain on the backyard of the prosperous Keller family: Father Joe (Mark Belnick), mother Kate
(CaroleAnne Johnson), and son Chris (Nicholas S. Williams). The second son, Larry has been Missing In Action for three years, but his
mysterious disappearance propels the tension: Is he still alive? Did Joe’s munitions factory play a part in his disappearance? Will Larry’s
old girlfriend, Ann (Lauren Dobbins Webb) couple with Chris, now that she has returned after an extended absence?
No more plot summary is necessary as you will want to let this masterful ensemble tell the tale themselves. Even
those familiar with the play will thrill at the pairing of a perfect cast with a perfect script that feels eerily tailor-made for them:
Matt Shea portrays neighbor Frank adroitly; as his sad, gossipy wife Lydia, Joanie Ellen’s warm laughter perfectly belies the forlorn woman
underneath; Kevin Ashworth perfectly embodies Miller’s suggestion that another neighbor, Dr. Jim, be played “with a wisp of sadness that
clings even to his self-effacing humor.” His wife, Sue, is played with startling accuracy by Mary Carrig, and David Kirkpatrick plays Ann’s
brother, George, with a conflicted, revengeful spirit that hurls the tension of the plot into high gear. Certainly, Miller’s ghost tapped
director Kiff Scholl on the shoulder during the casting session and said, “Them.”
Kudos to Miss Johnson’s Kate and Miss Webb’s Ann: you can sense the weight-bearing
pressure on Kate, who is still not reconciled with ghosts of the past, and the nervous reservations of Ann, who is ready to move into the
future. You may want to hold them, comfort them, or shake them out of complacency, but you will be too riveted to turn your gaze from
Our protagonist, Chris, balances well with our antagonist, his father Joe; but Mr. Belnick, though not a weak link,
is the only discrepancy I have with the casting. In this, its stellar inaugural production, Wasatch Theatrical Ventures has seen fit to
cast Mr. Belnick, its founding artistic director, in the pivotal role of Joe (clearly a precursor to Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman). This is a complex character: grave yet loving, stolid yet conflicted, uneducated
yet successful; although Mr. Belnick may play angry or distant at the right times, he offers these moments in a presentational manner –
they don’t ring true because we don’t sense them as organic.
It is Nicholas S. Williams as Chris who astounds with his authentic vulnerability – it is the performance that
dreams are made of: his listening, reacting, internalizing, and discovery should be studied by acting students near and far. There isn’t a second of falsehood. If you ask why you should seek out small, legitimate theatre in
Los Angeles, Mr. Williams is the reason. Watch an actor at the top of his game close up.
All of the actors relate so well to each other, it is almost ballet-like. Certainly, credit must be given to
director Scholl. There is an intense subtlety to his production that reminds me why Elia Kazan was so revered; Mr. Scholl has that
astonishing ability to turn psychological, interior phenomena into external behavior. No actor outshines another; Mr. Scholl’s steady hand
allows his thespians to complement each other. How often will you get a chance to see that?
Huzzah to costume designer Sarah Register. Pitch-perfect authenticity rarely occurs in small theatre. The detail is
amazing, right down to the perfect hairstyles. And don’t think this reviewer didn’t notice that Ann’s new dress was impeccable while Kate’s
dress looked worn, as if she had been tugging at it with worry.
Although the Raven has fairly ghastly sight-lines, Davis Campbell’s set allows plenty of room
for the well-focused placement of Mr. Scholl’s actors.
In a 1981 essay, Arthur Miller revealed his belief that each audience member carries about with him (or her,
implicitly) an anxiety or a hope which is his alone and isolates him from mankind, and that the function of a play is to reveal him to
himself so that he may touch others. A visit with The Kellers, All My Sons’s mid-western,
middle-class family, reveals anxieties we can all relate to, such as falling in love, gossip, regrets, uncertainty, and loss – and when you
leave this astute rendering of Classic American Theatre, you may find yourself wanting to touch others, not just because you witnessed a
compelling, satisfying theatrical event, but because you are inspired to reveal some truth about yourself.
Wasatch Theatrical Ventures’ mission to produce great American plays at the highest artistic level in the intimacy
of small theatre at affordable prices has been fully realized. Bravo to them and to producer Racquel Lehrman (of Theatre Planners). May you
have a most successful run and a most triumphant future.
tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com
photos by Ed Krieger
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