‘All My Sons’: American tragedy

DENVER – There’s a moment in every great tragedy where it’s almost too much to bear; we must turn away. In “All My Sons,” Arthur Miller’s post-World War II play about a tormented family, there are so many of those moments that it can make for an uneasy evening of theater.

So much the better, one could argue. The questions raised in “All My Sons” represent the kind of moral conundrums that don’t seem to get much play anymore.

Directed by Bruce K. Sevy, “All My Sons” is playing to amazed audiences at the Denver Center Theatre Company. This is no light entertainment, but Sevy has assembled such an extraordinary cast that audiences have to keep looking. There’s no turning away from Mike Hartman, who plays pater familia Joe Keller. Hartman is able to move from a credible facade of light-heartedness to a tortured soul and back again with such grace that he keeps the audience on tenterhooks, anxious to know where he’ll land in each successive scene.

Joe is at the heart of this story, an airplane parts manufacturer who knowingly sends defective engines into battle, then must face the fact that 21 of the planes go down as a result. His short-term solution is to foist the blame onto his partner, who is then sent to prison. Joe will later protest to his wife, Kate (Jeanne Paulsen) and son Chris (David Furr) that he did it all for them. But nobody’s buying it.What Miller created in “All My Sons” is a fast-moving portrait of a family unraveling, with underpinnings of morality that would make the most sanctimonious among us stop to consider. Would we lie to save ourselves from going to prison, to protect our family? How do we weigh our responsibility to the world in relation to our own close circle?The instrument of his demise – the truth – is always there for Joe, latent though he believes it to be. It takes only the appearance of his former partner’s children – Ann and George Deever – to set the wheels in motion for the truth to out. As Ann, Rachel Fowler does a bang-up job, walking the line as Hartman does between chipper exterior and deeply troubled emotions. And although David Ivers as George only appears later in the second act, his work is stellar, as he moves his character from furious to placated and back to furious.

Playwrights are told that true drama comes from characters being impaled upon dilemmas, and nearly every player in “All My Sons” is so encumbered. Miller’s play manages to encompass a number of related stories within the greater framework, and the way he allowed it to unfold is nothing short of masterful. It was, in fact, the work that cemented his stature as a writer, just two years before “Death of a Salesman.””All My Sons” is staged in the Denver Center’s smaller, in-the-round Space Theatre all the better for witnessing the play’s highly personal, emotionally charged and sometimes even physical confrontations. It’s described as being particularly relevant today in light of the current war, but in reality the themes it explores are universal and timeless.

Vail Daily, Oct. 10, 2005

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