All My Sons
Tue Oct 21 2008
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
What a difference a director makes. If Arthur Miller’s 1947 All My Sons—a moral melodrama about war profiteering—were mounted by one of our usual Broadway suspects (such as the Roundabout), it would surely creak from the weight of its own significance. But the producers of this revival have instead engaged Simon McBurney, the prime mover behind England’s superb Complicite company, to bring his wide, generous sensibility to Miller’s play. The result is a remarkable evening at the theater—lucid, bold, modern and emotionally wrenching.
John Lithgow stars as Joe Keller, the rotting core of Miller’s story: a self-made and self-important industrialist with a shadowy past. (His factory produced defective wares during World War II.) The riveting Dianne Wiest is his wife, Kate, who refuses to accept the death of their eldest son in the South Seas; their other son, the high-minded Chris, is played by Patrick Wilson. These fine actors do full justice to the domestic specifics of Miller’s play, which owes equal debts to Sophocles and Ibsen. But McBurney consistently views the Keller family as part of a larger picture: The neighbors are always just offstage, visible in the wings; during longer monologues, vibrant black-and-white video montages are projected on the back wall.
The explicit theatricality of McBurney’s staging minimizes the play’s flaws while deepening its impact. Since most of the acting involves a slight edge of artifice, one is less distracted by the lovely Katie Holmes’s show-pony stiffness as Chris’s girlfriend; and the production’s elegantly dramatic design moots the occasional clunkiness of Miller’s dialogue. McBurney’s sense of distance doesn’t disconnect us from the characters so much as it reveals a new set of connections, between them and the world beyond their backyard. In its exploration of guilt, denial and responsibility, this All My Sons proves disturbingly germane to the shameful legacy of the Iraq War. McBurney’s vision helps us see ourselves.