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All My Sons Review
Arthur Miller delivered a powerful message about the dangers of capitalism in his Tony Award-winning 1947 drama, “All My Sons,” and seven decades later, with Donald Trump in the White House and a “democratic socialism” being the key phrase among many of the 2020 presidential hopefuls, Miller’s cautionary tale-cum-family drama resonates more strongly than ever. Still, Jack O’Brien’s superb revival, now at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre, does nothing to force that parallel. Indeed, this mesmerizing production, makes its points simply by letting Miller’s words ring loud and clear – and in the mouths of some of America’s finest actors.

As always, we’re in the picture-perfect Midwest backyard of the household of Joe Keller (Tracy Letts) and his wife Kate (Annette Bening) -- stunningly designed by Douglas W. Schmidt-- two years after the end of World War II. At first, all looks bright and cheery, until we notice a suddenly destroyed tree, which has been planted in honor of the Keller’s long-missing (and supposedly dead) soldier son Larry. More than mere memorial, it proves all-too-quickly to be a potent portent to how the family landscape will soon be transformed.

For one thing, Larry’s brother, the morally upstanding Chris (a moving Benjamin Walker) has invited their old neighbor – and Larry’s former girlfriend Ann Deever (an excellent, strong-willed Francesca Carpanini) – to visit, with the intention of asking her to marry him. Unsurprisingly, though, Ann’s arrival stirs up the past in many ways. First, it was her father – Joe’s former business partner – who still lingers in jail for shipping out defective airplane parts, while Joe has been exonerated on appeal, resumed his business, and returned to his role of the neighborhood nice guy. Does Ann hold a grudge, despite all her protestations to the contrary? Secondly, Kate is hanging on, tooth and nail, to the belief that Larry is still alive, and Ann’s willingness to marry Chris – and thereby let go of Larry – is more than she can handle. Or so we are led to believe.

Letts displays a slightly crusty, gruff charm in the beginning, but it’s a bit more obvious than in some prior productions that what we initially see is little more than a mask that cleverly hides the darker aspects of his personality. And when Letts finally implodes and explodes later in the play, after being forced to wake up from his self-made version of the American Dream, the aftermath is both terrifying and heartbreaking. Like most of Miller’s protagonists, Joe isn’t evil incarnate; he’s merely a man who has lost his moral compass years ago and has no real interest in finding it again.

But the production’s true revelation comes from Bening, returning to the New York stage for the first time in 32 years. Often a “supporting” player in this drama, Kate is now basically the play’s fulcrum, as O’Brien subtly makes us realize how each character’s actions and reactions are essentially responses to Kate’s moods. Even the neighbors (nicely essayed by Michael Hayden, Nehal Joshi, Jenni Barber and Chinasa Ogbuagu) cater to her without hesitation.

But, much like with Joe, both Kate’s fragility and her all-American charm are mere personae that she puts on when needed, such as to diffuse the sudden appearance of Ann’s angry brother George (a superb Hampton Fluker). For much of the play, especially when interacting with only her family and Ann, Bening’s Kate displays a much harder edge than usual, not only letting her barely-contained anger and grief come to the surface time and again, but also signaling that she has lost the strength to keep acting the parts she’s been assigned: the mourning mother and the supposedly-innocent wife. It’s a truly triumphant performance that makes us sad for all we haven’t been able to witness during her prolonged absence.

As for “All My Sons,” it never stays away too long – this is its third major revival in 22 years – nor should it. Miller time is timeless.

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Annette Bening, Tracy Letts, Benjamin Walker, Francesca Carpanini, Hampton Fluker, Michael Hayden, Jenni Barber, Alexander Bello, Monte Greene, Nehal Joshi and Chinasa Ogbuagu

Open/Close Dates
Opening 4/22/2019
Closing Open-ended

Theatre Info
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036