Story: World War II is over, and Joe Keller is back at work running his factory. During the war, he and his partner, Steve Deever, had been convicted of selling defective airplane parts to the United States Army. Those defective pieces led to the deaths of 21 Army Air Force pilots who flew faulty planes into combat.
Joe had said that he really wasn’t aware that Steve willingly sold bad parts to their military contacts, so his prison sentence was truncated while Steve continued to serve time. Now, a year after the war, Joe and his wife Kate live with their son Chris, a war veteran who hopes to marry Ann, the sweetheart of his late brother, Larry.
The latter had disappeared three years earlier in the Pacific theater and was presumed dead, but his mother refuses to believe that. When Annto accepts Chris’ invitation to return home, she tells everyone after her arrival that she hasn’t spoken to her father Steve since he was sent to prison.
She has to deal with Kate’s stubborn disapproval of her wedding plans with Chris. Then, her brother George comes home after visiting his father with more disturbing news: Joe may have been more involved in the shady deal with the military than he has indicated.
Highlights: Arthur Miller won a Tony Award in 1947 for this affecting, three-act work that helped catapult him to national acclaim, two years before the debut of Death of a Salesman. Some sizzling performances under the watchful direction of Jan Meyer inhabit the current Kirkwood Theatre Guild presentation that shows why Miller was one of the titans of 20th century American theater.
Other Info: Patrons entering the Reim Theatre at Kirkwood Community Center are treated to an impressive, realistic set design by Merrick Mohler assembled by master carpenter Gary Sibbitts and his colleagues. It’s a depiction of the Keller family home, a handsome, two-story façade that includes a front porch and an attic bedroom, well lit by lighting designer Denise Wade.
Old-fashioned lawn chairs and serving tables provided by set decorator Judi Lowe and props furnished by manager Karen Pierce add to the effect of a sturdy Midwest home in the 1940s, an atmosphere enhanced by Ann Wessley’s costume design of domestic women in high heels and men such as George sporting fedoras.
Meyer’s pacing is solid, as the first act breezes by prior to intermission. Intensity picks up considerably in the drama’s two successive, shorter acts, making the entire two-and-a-half-hour presentation generally taut and well told.
Jeff Kargus sets the bar high with a standout performance as the disillusioned Chris. Everything about Kargus’ portrayal rings true, from the varying inflections in his voice depending on the scene to the acutely accurate physical portrayal, where he really seems ready to explode in rage at the realization of what his father did rather than just ‘acting’ the part. It’s a wonderful interpretation that gives this production its richest texture.
After an unconvincing start, Ken Lopinot grows nicely in the pivotal role of Joe, a tragic character in the classical style of ancient Greek theater. Joe is a good man who provides not only for his own family but enables many people to make their livelihood in his employ. Still, at the defining moment of his life he proves weak and cowardly, something that Lopinot handles with increasing credibility. Joe’s innate goodness makes his shocking fall all the more affecting.
There’s fine work, too, by Amanda Vick, who makes Ann strongly convincing as a young woman determined to move forward despite the tragedies that already have impacted her life. As Kate, Rebeca Davison saves her greatest moments for the increasingly dramatic arc of the latter two acts, resonating with the emotion of a woman who knows in her heart that her eldest son is probably dead, but who refuses to accept that for myriad, equally poignant reasons.
Stephen Peirick offers a solid, well-etched turn as Ann’s tortured brother, George, whose hatred for Joe slowly gives way to sympathy until a fateful slip of the tongue by Kate brings his anger back to the fore. Jon Hey and Nancy Nigh do well as the Kellers' next-door neighbors, a stifled physician and his needling wife, while NoreenAnn Rhodes, Preston Murchison and Hayden Benbenek are fine in smaller roles as other neighbors.
Local patrons have the opportunity right now to see fine presentations of works by Miller at the top of his literary creativity with All My Sons,as well as an example of his slightly inferior but still capable abilities nearly half a century later with The Ride Down Mount Morgan, currently being performed by St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Both productions ably demonstrate how brilliant Miller truly was in his writings and understanding of human nature.
Play: All My Sons
Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: January 23, 24, 25, 26
Tickets: $18; contact 821-9956 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb