Courtesy of The Purple Rose Theatre Company
Influential and timeless from its creation in 1947, the Arthur Miller classic “All My Sons” has landed on The Purple Rose’s stage, and with it a heaping of memorable performances, scathing political commentary, and well-crafted allegories.
Serving as the predecessor for “Death of a Salesman,” “All My Sons” is considered by some to be Miller’s signature piece, showcasing a moral conundrum of a generation and tackling a father-son conflict where the patriarch of the family is just another imperfect man whose tragic errors in judgement brings down all he knows and loves.
Miller’s play tells of the Keller family, and the fallout that stems from a small newspaper article detailing how family man Joe (Richard McWilliams - outstanding) has been under suspicion for selling faulty parts to the U.S. military during World War II. And the way Miller’s play is structured begs the question of whether Joe knowingly sold cracked airplane cylinder heads to the army that caused the death of 21 innocent pilots.
For his wife Kate (Michelle Mountain) - she’s holding out hope that her son, Larry, is still alive three years after being reported MIA - she supports Joe, and considering he was cleared of fault at his trial, he’s easier to defend. Chris (Ryan Black) - their younger son, helps run the family business now that Larry is gone. Ironic that his family’s loss is his gain, seeing as he’s dating his older brother’s fiancé, the cute girl down the street, Ann Deever (Caitlin Cavanaugh) and he plans to marry her.
It’s a strange family dynamic, which brilliantly puts the spotlight on how the demands of daily life can cause the destruction of moral integrity. Over the course of the production, Kate rejects Chris’s proposal to Ann because she’ll always be “Larry’s girl,” Joe is suffering from the guilt of those pilots lives, Ann’s brother George (David Bendena) stops by for an afternoon spat, and the nosy neighbors Dr. Jim Bayliss (Tom Whalen) and his wife Sue (Susan Craves) offer their own gossip on the situations at hand. This all taking place in the domesticated backyard of the Keller household, which scenic designer Sarah Pearline does a flawless job at creating, helping the content in Miller’s play leave a memorably bitter sting as the action literally unfolds in their own backyard. If home is where the heart is, Pearline’s design strategically plays with our heartstrings.
For those who know “All My Sons,” and for any newcomers in attendance, The Purple Rose’s production is a solid rendition to get you acclimated to Miller’s work, or to refresh your memory on just how good he is (you can see why its current Broadway revival has received multiple Tony nominations). But here in Michigan, we’re lucky enough to have a terrific ensemble piece together the ruins of this fractured family and their neighbors.
For McWilliams, this demanding role comes natural to the acting veteran (and a quick look at his resume will confirm those details). Considering the flow of emotions Joe Keller plows through over the course of Guy Sanville’s breezy two-hour production, it’s remarkable how the audience can watch the Keller family be broken or made on his portrayal alone. In the wrong hands, this role could be futile, but here it seems the perfect marriage of actor and character. Likewise for Mountain - who I’m grateful to see on the stage again following her award worthy transformation in “Never Not Once” - who undergoes another transformation entirely as the fragile matriarch hanging on to a false sense of hope, clinging to the notion that Larry will someday walk through the front door. Mountain, like McWilliams, really digs deep to bring out their layers of emotional turmoil as their character’s secrets slowly become stripped away.
As for the remainder of the supporting cast, Ryan Black is equally compelling as Chris, a real charmer and boy-next-door kinda fella, who hardly sees the fault in his folks daily lives; resident artist Caitlin Cavanaugh notches another pristine performance on her resume; David Bendena and Rusty Mewha get real mileage out of their brief stage time, and Olivia Goosman does fine work playing the sneaky little boy next door, Bert. They all look great under Suzanne Young’s divine costume work and Dana L. White’s simple, yet effective lighting plot goes a long way.
In addition to the performances, “All My Sons” benefits from the intimacy of The Purple Rose's space, with Sanville’s direction and staging a complement to both the solid acting and interior proximity. The actors never appear unnatural, and when the performers find that moment of intensity, their pain comes across with an intense and interesting beauty. I never felt a detachment from scene to scene, and I was consistently engaged with the action.
Granted, I can’t speak for audiences who saw “All My Son” in its heyday, but the script still feels timely in this decade. Discussions and issues facing government contracts, corporate greed, folks being exploited in times of war, and the constant reckoning of how we’re still faced with the sins of our fathers really hits an emotional chord. Whether you’re seeing this play for the first time, or brand new to the Miller classic - whichever way you slice it, this is must see theatre.
All My Sons by Arthur Miller continues through June 1st at The Purple Rose Theatre Company. To purchase tickets and see showtimes you can click here or call (734) 433-7673