Wednesday, May 1, 2024

All My Sons - Hartford Stage

Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, receiving a striking production at Hartford Stage, is a work that still resonates today, even though it was written over 75 years ago.  The play succeeds on multiple levels.  There are thorny family dynamics that are examined.  Questions of truth, greed and loyalty are raised.  All of this is wrapped around characters reaching for the American Dream.

Michael Gaston and Marsha Mason in All My Sons.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Elevating the staging are two consummate performances – Marsha Mason as the family matriarch, Kate Keller and Michael Gaston as her husband, Joe Keller.  Their interplay, both tumultuous and tender, forms the backbone of the show.


The play unfolds on the Keller’s backyard.  Kate is in denial of her son Larry’s assumed death, when his plane disappeared during WWII.  Both Joe and their other son, Chris, believe otherwise.  Entering this scenario is Ann Deever, a childhood friend of Chris who was engaged to Larry before he went off to war.  Now, two years after his brother’s disappearance, Chris wishes to marry her, much to the chagrin of his parents.  During Ann’s visit, it is revealed that her father, Steve, and Joe were in business together manufacturing cylinder heads for jet planes.  When a defective set caused the crash of 21 planes, both Joe and Steve were investigated.  Joe was exonerated, even though neighbors may quietly think otherwise.  Ann’s father was convicted and still sits in prison.  At the end of Act I, Joe receives a call from Ann’s brother George, who has just visited their father in prison.  He is now coming to the Keller’s residence to set the record straight.  Upon his arrival he accuses Joe of being complicit in covering up the defective parts.  Joe maintains his innocence, but at this point in the play long-told stories and excuses begin to unravel, loyalties shift, hidden secrets are exposed, and the relationships between family members begin to crumble.

Michael Gaston and Fiona Robberson in All My Sons.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

In All My Sons, Arthur Miller has crafted a well-constructed work with a highly satisfying beginning, middle and end.  Sounds simple, but many new playwrights being produced today fall far short of this goal.  In addition to a plot that flows without unnecessary contrivances, Miller skillfully builds into the play a shattering climax.  Characters in All My Sons are fully established.  They are engaging with traits, foibles and strengths audiences can embrace.  The aforementioned issues and themes provide for much after show debate and conversation.


Director Maria Bensussen keeps the pacing brisque while, at the same time, allowing the performers space to develop their portrayals.  She effectively imbues the play with moments of reflection and keenly handles the more tumultuous scenes with a deft hand.  


Riw Rakkulchonbelie’s Scenic Design of an imposing white house and grassy backyard on a raked stage has the effect of bringing the action closer to the audience, making the production more intimate and inviting.  Mary Louise Geiger’s Lighting Design provides apt tonal variations to the show.

Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. and Marsha Mason in All My Sons.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Marsha Mason’s portrayal of Kate Keller is key to the production.  While, initially, coming across as scattered and slightly out-of-touch, the actress, almost inperceptually at first, proves there is more to her character than meets the eye.  Ms. Mason is flawless as she delivers a meticulously modulated, superlative performance.  Joe Keller is a man of many dimensions – combative, affable, delusional, and misguided.  Michael Gaston is superb in the role, bringing forth a skillful, nuanced portrayal of a man full of contradictions.


Fiona Robberson gives a gripping, heartrending performance as the lovelorn Ann Deever.  Ben Katz was fine as Chris Keller, but his portrayal could have been been enhanced with more subtlety.  Reece Dos Santos’ George Deever, who is loud, confused, and looking for a fight, could have brought more shading to the role. The rest of the cast - Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. as Dr. Jim Bayliss, Yadira Correa as Sue Bayliss, Dan Whelton as Frank Lubey, and Caitlin Zoz as Lydia Lubey – provided admirable performances that supplied necessary exposition and a fullness to the production.


All My Sons, playing at Hartford Stage through May 5.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.

No comments: