Arthur Miller’s second play in 1947, All My Sons, garnered a Tony Award for Best Author. The play, based upon a real story in an Ohio newspaper, brought Miller to testify about his patriotism before the House Un-American Activities Committee, due to the play’s perceived attack on the suburban American Dream and the play’s critique of the ruling Military-Industrial Complex that emerged from World War II. While not Miller’s best play, it still retains its tragic relevancy because not much has changed on either score. The 1987 revival netted a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. The first act depicts small town boredom and country humor in the genial Midwest. Noel Desiato as the central heroine appears more ditsy than angry and depressed.
Thomas Ovitt as her son can’t do enough to please everybody. Only Mark Feltch as the Father conveys the undercurrent that we are watching a tragedy brewing. Charming Dylan Sosbe as a ten-year old appears not to have been told that he is not really speaking to his fellow actors, but to the audience. Paige Grey as the love-object appropriately conveys uncertain identity, yet somehow lacks the chemistry of real stage presence. Deron Bayer as Grey’s older brother does very well, but he is miscast--he really should be a year younger than young Ovitt (according to the script). Rufus de Rham adroitly handles his role as an earnest devotee of horoscopes for off-beat, comic relief. In general, the direction by Jane Farnol seems weak. Rising above the direction, Jonathan Ross excels as the slightly cynical town doctor resigned to life on the provincial prairie, while Stacy-Lee Frome remains firmly convincing as the unpleasant neighbor.
The central plot is adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck where one businessman takes moral responsibility and the other does not. In this case, it concerns an arms manufacturer who produces a faulty product that results in the death of 21 American fighter pilots, as well as his own son, who does not appear in the play, a device first used by Aeschylus in the Orestia. Miller even doubles that device with the business partner in jail (he has accepted moral responsibility).The device of the secret letter telling all was a worn melodramatic device of the nineteenth century, yet works quite well in this play’s crescendo.
Miller’s ambition to write a modern Greek classic based upon Aristotle’s prologue to his lost book on drama and epic now appears densely claustrophobic. The events portrayed could possibly have happened during one week, but not in a single day. In this play (which exhibits a touch of Turgenev) the father-son argument concluding Act II presents fierce contention, but to have the son bowl down the father on the stage and lay atop him lends an air of anticlimax to the tragic conclusion of Act III. (By the way, why is the son following the current affectation of wearing an untied tie?) Set design by Jim Hipp gets four stars.
The performance does come together in Act III. Here Mark Feltch holds it together and utters the play’s dramatic title with fraught angst, although I would have enjoyed more submerged anger-and-fire in eye-glaring asides. There should have been a more continuous, rising dramatic arc on the part of his wife (Noel Desiato) rather than episodic flitting.
The rather shocking aspect of this play is that nothing has changed. In Iraq soldiers were given defective “bullet-proof” jackets that increased the death toll. General Motors delivered poorly designed Humvees that could not withstand roadside bombs. Mortar ordinance failed to explode. The assigned army rifle in the desert was no match for the Kalashnikov, etc. We are still needlessly killing our sons in wars no one understands. The American Dream is now available only for the extremely rich or in a boob-tube mirage. Turn it off and look at this collective mirror.
This ambitious production of All My Sons at Theatreworks in New Milford runs Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm until October 13. You won’t fall asleep and may come away with a thought or two about this country.