ALL MY SONS at the Intiman Theatre: A Powerhouse of a Play

Like many people, my first exposure to Arthur Miller was reading The Crucible when I was in high school. Of course, everyone also watched the movie. Who can forget Winona Ryder feigning evil while batting her doe eyes?
It was this stereotypical introduction that made me excited to see Intiman Theatre’s production of “All My Sons.” I wanted to revisit Miller with fresh eyes, an older perspective and without a study guide or Winona Ryder haunting my opinion.
Long story short, “All My Sons” was a powerhouse production. The credit belongs in equal parts to Miller’s playwriting and the Intiman’s interpretation.
Miller wrote “All My Sons” in 1947 and it was his first commercially-successful play. Even though the backdrop is post-WWII society, the themes are so relevant that it easily transfers to modern society. While director Valerie Curtis-Newton did not change the era, she chose to set the play in an interracial neighborhood of Seattle’s Central District rather than Miller’s original vision of a homogenous Ohio town.
The Keller family is personally and professionally dealing with the lingering impacts of war. Joe Keller (Chuck Cooper) is the patriarch and a businessman who made his fortune producing military parts. Far from the stereotype of a business shark, he initially seems to be a jovial family man who loves entertaining the neighborhood children. His business partner is his adoring son Chris (Reginald Andre Jackson), a WWII veteran and hero. The family matriarch, Kate (Margo Moorer), endearingly nags both her husband and son.
Numerous secrets lurk beneath the veneer of the all-American family, however. Another son, Larry, went missing during the war. Fissures develop between the family members who believe he is dead and those who hold onto hope – perhaps delusionally. Happy-go-lucky Joe and his business partner, the unseen Steve Deever, were implicated in a wartime scam of selling faulty airplane parts that resulted in pilot casualties. In yet another twist, Joe’s former partner is the father of Ann (Nicole Lewis), Larry’s former girlfriend.
The play has all of Miller’s signature themes – deceit, betrayal and the question of redemption. As the play unfolds, the issues of conscience become increasingly layered and complicated. The actors do a universally good job of imparting their characters with dimension. Jackson plays the son Chris with absolutely believable sincerity and idealism. As the secrets spill out, no character can clearly be labelled as good or bad. It is easy to simultaneously feel disgust and sympathy. Cooper is particularly effective in displaying the complexities of Joe Keller’s character.
If you have any familiarity with Miller’s works, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this play is not filled with puppies and rainbows. It is heart wrenching to watch the unraveling of ideals. However, it is gripping and suspenseful. Even at intermission, I would not let myself guess where the plot was headed. IThere is foreshadowing, but you don’t want to see it. As an audience member, I felt a sense of denial similar to what the characters felt. It helped me understand their mindset. With society’s current discussions regarding the impacts of war(s) and also the discussion of corporate versus personal conscience, this is a play worth seeing.
Besides, it’s better than the Miller you remember from high school. There isn’t a pop quiz and Winona Ryder is nowhere to be seen.
“All My Sons” played through April 17.

By Deanna Duff

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