“All My Sons” Howls with a Renewed Fervor at SLCA
Circle Theatre Players are doing a bang-up job on “All My Sons,” the Arthur Miller perennial which speaks with renewed urgency to an America that has seemed to have lost its way in treating all citizens as equal and precious to the communal health of the country. Miller wrote the play based on a true story that his mother-in-law had pointed out to him. It was his last-ditch effort at playwriting after his Broadway debut, “The Man Who Had All the Luck” lasted 4 performances. It opened in January, 1947 and ran for over two years.
The story of the play is that Joe Keller (Fred Sirois), an American industrialist, is enjoying a Sunday morning in his backyard. The daughter of his former neighbor Ann Deever (Tess McHugh), who had been engaged to his eldest son Larry who has been missing from the war for nearly three years, has come back to visit the younger son Chris Keller (Jacob Morgan Fisch) and Joe strongly suspects that there is a relationship between the two of them. They have been writing to each other for two years and eventually Chris proposes in a sweet scene but must keep it from the mother, Kate Keller (Karleen Hayden), who still believes Larry will return home. Chris works in his father’s manufacturing plant, a plant that shipped out defective airplane engine parts during the war and after Joe was exonerated the blame fell on Ann’s father, the unseen Steve Deever who is serving time in jail for knowingly shipping out the cracked cylinder heads to the Air Force. At the end of the first act, Ann’s brother George (Todd Langley) calls and announces he is coming to settle things.
I’ve always believed that actors need great plays that they believe in to achieve their best performances and there must be something monumentally inspirational in Miller’s barn burner of collective conscience because I have never seen a better performance from nearly everyone in this cast than I saw last night. Director Barry Streifert deserves huge kudos for guiding his cast through this difficult play which has more developments, significance and connections between characters than some theaters have in a season. I could have used a heightened pace especially in Act I and late in the play when we should be hurtling to the conclusion but it didn’t seriously affect my enjoyment of the work at all. Fred Sirois as the head of the household is a solid anchor to the production, deftly controlling and manipulating from his wicker arm-chair. He is extraordinarily powerful when he rises up and challenges but can also play sweet and light with Ann and Burt, Liam White irresistibly playing the neighborhood scamp. Sirois has terrific use of his voice and speech and it all seems to flow out naturally from him. His devastation at the end is well played and very effective. Playing his wife Karleen Hayden is a revelation to me. I had not expected such a strong, domineering performance in apron strings. Joe may bluster but there are cards that mother holds that still surprise me even after the number of times I’ve seen this play. She is gracious, courteous and hospitable until you cross her, then watch out! I hope the weekend rounds out both performances, they don’t need to work so hard, they can relax and trust that all their work is there and powerfully evident to the audience.
Jacob Morgan Fisch is terrific as Chris, all energetic ideals and open-hearted belief until his eyes are pried open. Tess McHugh is delightful as Ann. She is most definitely a woman worth coming home to and worth sacrificing everything for. She gathers strength from the secret she holds and reluctantly bares at the play’s climax. As the neighbors who bought the Deever house, real life husband and wife Bill and Pat Douglas play the Baylisses. Bill is all easy equanimity as the doctor, Jim and Pat does a great job as Sue in one of my favorite scenes that Miller ever wrote threatening Ann and warning her to take Chris and his ideals and move far away. She rips off the façade of easy virtue that Chris has been wearing and demands to know at what cost. Excellent scene ladies. Todd Langley as George comes on after visiting his father in jail stolid and troubled, he could use more fiery anger but his transformations later in the scene, melting with Kate and catching a lie are well played. The Lubeys are also neighbors and they are Evan Brooksby and the lovely Maddie Illenberg who lights up the stage with every entrance.
The set design and construction was by Michael McDermott, Bryce Ginther, Eric Washburn, Drew White, Barbara Neu-Berti and Anna Church. It has a nice shape and it’s very useful but there are a few too many textures going on. Costumes were great again by board president Barbara Neu-Berti. Anne-Marie Baker did the sound design which is usually Barry’s strength but there was a well-chosen selection of period songs both pre-show and at intermission. Stage Management was by the invaluable Melody Kruger and Rebecca Gardner saved the day as a last-minute board operator.
The Greeks had play festivals where the community would debate the values of their society. Friday night, there were less than half a dozen seats available for this play. Miller’s idealism and criticism of the American ethos that all is justified in this country in the pursuit of business made him a target for the House Un-American Activities Committee and secured his place as the moral conscience of American theater. Circle Theater Players who had such a great production of “The Crucible” a couple years back have lit up the sky once again with this powerful production that received a prolonged standing ovation from the near-capacity crowd. If criticizing this nation’s selfishness and greed are an un-American activity, I wholeheartedly recommend your attendance at this dissenting production.