Joe Keller and his partner, Steve Deever, were tried in a court of law, for deliberately shipping out defective plane parts during the war, resulting in the deaths of numerous pilots. Joe was exonerated while his partner was sent to prison. While the stigma of this scandal has not entirely vanished, Joe, his wife Kate and their son, Chris live in relative harmony with their neighbors. Kate believes that the older son, Larry, who has been missing for three years during military service, is still alive, despite though Chris and Joe have been trying to convince her how unlikely the possibility. Chris invites Ann Deever (Larry’s fiancee) to be a guest in their home. The two have fallen in love, but can’t decide how to announce their marriage plans, as it will put the final nail in Larry’s coffin.
There’s an overwhelming sense that beneath the air of calm, cheery normality in the Keller home the pitch of hysteria is lurking just beneath the surface. Kate is obstinate in her optimism and naturally, no one wants to disabuse her and break her heart. But it isn’t just Kate. The ghosts of unresolved catastrophe that emerge from the factory incident loom over the household, and much as Chris and Ann long to wed and move on with their lives, they are stuck in the web of Kate’s denial. It feels odd that Ann is engaged to Chris, but she believes in his dad’s innocence, perhaps even at the expense of her own father’s. To some degree, most of the characters seem to be walking on eggshells, as if some terrible truth, if revealed, will ruin their lives.
Set in 1946, All My Sons was playwright Arthur Miller’s first big success. He addresses issues such as moral relativism, the competitive, dehumanizing nature of capitalism (more money = more security) and Social Darwinism. The reason it works is because Miller avoids the pitfalls of didacticism. Joe Keller is a congenial, down-to-earth, regular guy. Miller never spells out the underlying forces beneath the central tragedy, he shows us how personal priorities can have a ripple effect on the lives of “strangers.” The ideas of heroism and villainy are stripped of archetypal trappings, we are asked to judge actions rather than individuals. We are inescapably drawn into the painful struggles of a warm, kind, recognizable, nuclear family who are lost, searching, aching, drowning.
This is closing weekend for Arthur Miller’s All My Sons playing at The WaterTower in Addison. There are very few times in my life that I have seen a such an impeccable, crushing, overwhelming show, so flawless in its manifestation. It’s implacable, gripping, well-articulated and rich with humanity. It will reach you at the marrow. It will wound your spirit. This is brilliant theatre, with a brave cast.
WaterTower presents All My Sons, playing Aril17th-May 10th, 2015. 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001. (972) 450-6232. www.watertowertheatre.org