John Youngblood & Zachary Adam Hebert in All My Sons.
Photo courtesy Clarksville Little Theatre.
All My Sons
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Great plays live on because they touch upon universal human experience. Even when the story seems entirely specific, the themes resonate for future generations.
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons examines an American family in 1947 struggling in the aftermath of two tragedies: the death of the older of 2 sons in World War II, and the scandal of the father’s company having shipped defective aircraft parts that resulted in the deaths of 21 pilots during the war. The father, Joe Keller (John Youngblood), has spent time incarcerated but was exonerated and released while his partner remains in prison.
When the younger son Chris (Zachary Adam Hebert) brings Ann Deever (Meghan Logue) home to visit, the fact that she was the older brother’s girlfriend and the daughter of Joe’s former partner triggers revelations that form the plot. Not least of the complications is that Joe’s wife, Kate (Candace Kresse) refuses to accept her firstborn’s death or that Chris wants to marry Ann.
Miller’s play begins in a low key manner, with the characters enjoying a relaxed Sunday morning in August, which is deceptive in cloaking the past tragedies and tragedies yet to unfold. The period detail is effectively captured in costumes assisted by Wendy Hames, but also in the detail of interaction between people that tell us this is another time. Not untypical for an opening night, the performances felt a little overstated at first, an aspect emphasized by the understated circumstance of the opening scene. The discrepancy resolves itself as the action of the play gains momentum and the cast finds its groove.
As Joe’s culpability is exposed and the others struggle with the implications, the moral conflict Miller delineates can be seen as prescient. The destruction of this one American family by the tragic decision to emphasize profit over the safety of serving military is as the playwright’s first look at the end of the American dream, but it also is a situation that is an antecedent for the expansion of the military-industrial complex and the devil’s bargain between security and private enterprise. One look at Haliburton’s profit on war in Iraq demonstrates the point.
Chris’s idealism and heartbreak are expertly developed in Zachary Adam Hebert’s performance, and Joe’s self-deceiving reliance on patriarchal responsibility is perfectly embodied by John Youngblood, and the heart of this production lies in the work of these two actors in carefully deconstructing this relationship. Chris and Joe are undeniably symbols of past and present, pragmatic corruptibility versus foolhardy idealism, but Mr. Hebert and Mr. Youngblood also make them live as characters on their own terms.
Candace Kresse works very hard to make sense of Kate’s indomitable grief and stubborn refusal to face reality, and if she didn’t quite reach the level of Messrs.’ Hebert and Youngblood, she at least seems on the right track. It is difficult to overcome what has now become cliché about the character. If the text portends social issues relevant half a century later, it doesn’t quite predict feminism. Kate is a complex woman, but Miller has less to illuminate about the role of women in the disintegration of the American ideal, and seems to position motherhood as a victim in this tragedy. Ann Deever is given more independence and free will in her choices, and Meghan Logue’s work is intelligent and forthright with the character.
The remaining members of the cast are strong and do fine work: Zac Taylor does well by George, Ann’s brother and the catalyst for change in the action of the play, Darren McGee, Becca Fortner, Connor Cummings, Abbey Braune and Ezra Hutchins round out the ensemble as neighbors.
All My Sons
January 15-23, 2016
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E. Montgomery Avenue
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.