by Hugh Hunter
“All My Sons” (1947) was Arthur Miller’s first success. Now running at The Stagecrafters Theater, 8130 Germantown Ave., it delivers a blunt criticism of America that still resonates.
Some story background: Industrialist Joe Keller sells aircraft parts to the Army during World War Two. The equipment fails and leads to a score of crashes. In the subsequent investigation, Joe is found innocent, but his friend and co-worker Steve is imprisoned.
We meet Joe three years later in his suburban back yard. The war is over. Business prospers, but there is a pall over the house. Son Larry died in the war, and surviving son Chris (Patrick Martin) wants to marry Larry’s old fiancee, Ann (Patti Moore).
Director Catherine Pappas is straightforward. The backyard set (designer Patricia Masarachia) is unchanging. Lighting is spare, but when effects are used they pack a wallop (light designer Gilbert Todd).
This simple approach keeps your attention fixed on the unfolding domestic drama. One thing that makes the show so affecting is the splendid performances Pappas gets out of her main actors.
E. Ashley Izard shines as Kate, the wife who has gone nearly insane over the death of son, Larry. Izard brings to life the complicated reality of a woman both deceiving and self-deceived (aren’t we all?), indulging in her pain in order to serve other purposes.
As Joe, Mark Schule matches up. At first Joe is full of manly bonhomie. But when details of the airplane scandal come to light Joe bristles with cliches drawn from the “American Dream” scenario.
Izard and Schule are so good together, they make an argument for going to see live theater. As the truth closes in like an inexorable enemy, Joe and Kate shrivel up into separate worlds of suffering.
Eavesdropping on people as I left the theater (I like to do that), the word “powerful” kept coming up. I agree. “All My Sons” has tremendous momentum, and the play opens up onto a vista of something larger than the lives of Kate and Joe.
We get a vision of an entire community. Residents include Dr.Bayliss (Jim Broyles), who sells out his love of research medicine to make money; his wife, Sue (Adrienne Cascarella), incongruously angry at both crooks and idealists; “modern man” George (A.S. Freeman), who proves to be as weak as his father, Steve.
Miller’s plot development is masterful, and the America that dragged Miller into testifying before the Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee is not much different from America today.
Miller is a moralist, and I suppose “All My Sons” is melodramatic. But I actually felt grateful to experience a play with a vision of “freedom” in which the individual is truly consequential, and therefore responsible to the larger social order. It’s just a shame you have to go back half a century to find it. “All My Sons” will run at The Stagecrafters through Feb. 19. Reservations at 215-247-9913.