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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Schoenfeld


  Katie Holmes and John Lithgow

You can't kill Arthur Miller's All My Sons if you have a capable cast of actors. And a capable cast of actors is just about all that this misconceived revival has going for it.

The most capable of all is John Lithgow, whose nuanced and gradually heartbreaking performance anchors all the other performances on stage. As Joe Keller, a factory owner whose modestly comfortable life with his wife Kate ( Dianne Wiest) and their son Chris ( Patrick Wilson) is profoundly disturbed during the course of the play's events. Lithgow creates a wrenching portrait of a man whose darkest truths are concealed on a daily basis. Patrick Wilson's accomplished, well-judged performance is at its best in his scenes with Lithgow- when Wilson gives his dad the potentially upsetting news that he intends to marry Ann ( Katie Holmes), once promised to his brother Larry. Wilson and Lithgow have a credible, vaguely conspiratorial dynamic that feels true to how fathers and sons can behave.

As Kate, the only principal character who is still waiting for Larry to return from the war three years after he's disappeared, Dianne Wiest is extraordinary and gives a powerful performance that seems to suggest that the character's state of denial is in part a kind of conscious self punishment. Although not as skilled at vocal modulation as the other three above-the-title stars, Katie Holmes brings a welcome touch of carnality to Ann and more than holds her own.

With this fine cast, it's regrettable that director Simon McBurney's production rejects the naturalism that Miller's play needs to achieve its full power. Instead the director has the entire company assemble to proclaim that they will be performing the play for us and then leaves them stranded on a slatted wooden platform with little more than a single chair and an upstage door. A barely dressed stage would be workable on its own, but here it's part of a larger directorial conceit that shows signs of deconstruction but actually offers no new insights. Images are projected on the wall behind the players - when we hear talk of pilots we see film of flying airplanes, and when there's talk of an assembly line we see projections of busy factory workers. Almost always there is musical underscoring, a nearly disastrous choice which underlines the melodramatic aspects of the play and threatens to cast a Hallmark movie pall over the drama. Actors who aren't required at a specific moment are seated in the wings and visible to most of the audience, or worse, stand frozen with backs to us at that lone door that, all of this misguided business, leads nowhere.

The heavy-handedness of these counterproductive and intrusive devices nearly destroys the first act, in which we are meant to take in the comings and goings in the Kellers' prototypical American middle class backyard, circa 1946. It's hard to get a sense of the social norms and behaviors of these ordinary folk with the actors surrounded by so much deliberately artificial business.

This production's second and third acts are far better, as the play narrows its focus mostly to the four principals in the family drama, the central performances are all that matters. In the end, they are all that's needed to put across Miller's timeless message about social responsibility.


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