By Patricia Garcia
It is always interesting to see how creative people can be with small theater spaces, especially when producing classical works that come with very specific stage directions, such as Arthur Miller's
All My Sons. Here, in Gary Lee Reed's rendition of the play, a simple and neat set provides the unchanging backdrop throughout the three acts.
The story about a family drama interwoven with the tragedies of WWII, seems to want to nudge us into questioning our own moral compass. Is it ok to lie to protect your family? What if it is at the cost of another family falling apart? Was Keller really just trying to protect his family and their patrimony? Or was he using his family as an excuse for his own shortcomings?
Chris (Jack Tynan), the righteous son of Joe and Kate Keller (Mark Belnick and Francesca Casale) intends to marry Ann (Alexis Boozer Sterling), his brother Larry's old girlfriend, before Larry was reported missing in action during the war, three years prior. All but Kate believe that Larry is dead. The Kellers and Ann's parents, the Deevers, used to be next-door neighbors and the two patriarchs worked together producing airplane parts, which they sold to the military during the war. After selling a batch of faulty parts, which caused several planes to go down, causing the death of several young men, Ann's father was condemned and is in jail as the play takes place. Joe Keller got away on a technicality. One that George (James McAndrew), Ann's brother, did not buy. Ann's family had to flee the quaint small town to escape the scrutiny and judgment towards the family since her father had gone to jail.
As the story unfolds and we're not sure who is really at fault and whether or not Larry is dead, I wish there had been a bit more of a buildup to the apex to the story, so the stakes would have been higher when the truth is finally revealed.
Tynan finds the right tone for the virtuous Chris and we feel for him, we understand the reasons why he wants to be with Ann, even though she used to be his brother's girl before the war. Jessica Moreno brings a well-timed comedic relief to the drama and gives a colorful performance to her Sue Bayliss, who, along with her husband, Dr. Jim Bayliss (Bill Doyle), moves into the house next door to the Kellers, after the whole scandal pushed the Deevers out.
Jessica Moreno, Bill Doyle, & Michael William Thompson
Photo by Ed Krieger
Belnick is particularly good towards the end of the third act, when he lets the emotion out and tries to justify the unjustifiable a little too practically, which is when Miller's poignant views on society come to surface. Casale also shines in an emotional scene, as she reads the letter Ann handed her.
Bert (Jack Heath) is also a quick and sweet comic-relief that reminds us of where we are and about the suburban lifestyle of a time bygone. Which can also be constructed as Miller's criticism to society at the time. How can a man who behaved in the way that Keller did go back to a quaint suburban life as if nothing had happened? As Keller points out in a moment of exasperation, if he should go to jail, then half the country should go as well, for everyone was out for themselves and behaving in a similarly questionable manner.
I find that we tend to measure the performances we see based on how they compare to the way we envisioned those characters while reading the play. Tynan's Chris, as well as Sterling's Ann, were up there. Tynan stands out and seems to have a firm grasp on his character and is able to give him layers that makes us root for him. Sterling captures the quiet confidence that Miller instills in Ann, without overdoing it.
As mentioned, I longed for more of a buildup to when the Kellers let the truth slip, so the stakes would be higher at the subtle but crucial moment when George (James McAndrew) catches them. Once the truth is out and George is pleading for Ann to leave with him, Ann has her back to the audience and is at the corner of the stage, so we can't see her reaction. There were other sporadic similar moments when, if the actor had "cheated" to the audience a little more, the scene could have been more engaging.
Jack Tynan, Alexis Boozer Sterling, & James McAndrew
Photo by Ed Krieger
That said, all my respect to all the actors braving the stage here and committing to such intricate work. As the play develops, the performers are able to capture Miller's cynicism towards American society. It was nice to see them perform to a practically full house.
We should also take a moment to acknowledge the well-thought-out sound effects that helps draw the audience into the Kellers' porch with the characters. Aside from the called for sounds for the weather and such, we hear birds chirping and a dog barking on and off from a distance, adding to that 40s suburban feel of the setting. And they were very creative with the small space. The set is simple but detail-oriented and well laid out. The lighting should also be acknowledged here. Given it is a small theatre and that the entire play takes place over the course of a single day and in the same setting, a good lighting strategy is important. Hats off to Derrick McDaniel (Lighting), David B. Marling (Sound) and Pete Hickok (Scenic Designer)
All My Sons
is playing at the Lounge Theatre, on
6201 Santa Monica Blvd. through May 11th. Street parking is available on Santa Monica Blvd. and on the side streets of the theatre.
For more information, visit: http://www.theatreplanners.com/lounge.html