By Crystal Hayduk
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons bares one seismic day in the lives of two families in the optimistic years following World War II.
Waiting for the start of the play at The Purple Rose Theatre Company (PRTC), the simple set encompassing a grassy backyard, a welcoming porch with a wooden swing, and a colonial screen door, against a background of soft violin music, transports me to happy childhood memories of visiting my grandmother.
In the first minutes of the performance, surprising lighting, sound, and blocking foreshadow a sinister story.
But with daybreak in the outskirts of Kokomo, Indiana in late summer of 1947, sweetness prevails as we meet the characters. Joe Keller (Richard McWilliams), ready for retirement, plans to hand over his business to his son, Chris (Ryan Black). Joe’s wife, Kate (Michelle Mountain), knows in her heart that their older son, Larry, will return from the war, even though he’s been missing for more than three years.
Chris wants to marry Ann (Caitlin Cavannaugh), the Keller’s former neighbor and daughter of Joe’s former business partner. But Kate is against the match, because “Annie” is Larry’s girl. Ann’s brother, George (David Bendena) later visits to share his opinion of the pair’s wedding plans.
Friends and neighbors round out the cast: helpful Frank (Rusty Mewha) and Lydia (Lauren Knox) Lubey; idealistic Dr. Jim Bayliss (Tom Whalen) and his pragmatic wife, Sue (Susan Craves); and playful neighbor kid, Bert (played by either Preston M. Bueche or Olivia Goosman).
The story depth and fine acting merge to create a memorable and moving experience for the audience. Each of the actors exhibits the complexity required to make their characters believable. Performances by McWilliams, Mountain, Cavannaugh and Bendena, PRTC resident artists, are outstanding. The newcomer to the PRTC stage, Ryan Black’s portrayal of Chris is a triumph. Whalen and Craves, as Dr. and Mrs. Bayliss, are a pair of opposites, who also bring out opposite audience reactions – admiration for Dr. Bayliss and antagonism for his wife. Mewha and Knox, both familiar actors to regular PRTC audiences, are a likeable breath of fresh air.
The tension that develops on stage throughout the performance is mirrored in the audience. With each clue, there is disbelief. With each revelation, there is shock. With each display of emotion, there is, in turn, tenderness or rage or sorrow displayed on the faces of theatre-goers. Many succumb to tears, so bring a tissue or two.
All My Sons premiered on Broadway in 1947, and has since been adapted for film and experienced several revivals, proving the appeal of drama that highlights numerous themes: love, courage, loss, deception, justice, repentance, forgiveness, greed, loyalty, and morality, among others.
True to the time period following World War II, symptoms of battle fatigue even appear, highlighting what we now term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
One of my favorite lines from the play is a fact worth remembering: “Once and for all you can know there’s a universe of people outside and you’re responsible to it…,” says Chris Keller to his father.
All My Sons
What: All My Sons, winner of two Tony awards, opened on Broadway in 1947.
Who: Playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005), a graduate of the University of Michigan, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1949. A prolific writer, Miller’s other classic plays include Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and A View from the Bridge.
When: Now playing through June 1; six performances a week – evenings and matinees.
Where: The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St.
Director: Guy Sanville, assisted by Angie Kane Ferrante
Cast: Richard McWilliams, Michelle Mountain, Ryan Black, Caitlin Cavannaugh, David Bendena, Tom Whalen, Susan Craves, Rusty Mewha, Lauren Knox, Preston M. Bueche/Olivia Goosman
Crew: Design includes set by Sarah Pearline, properties by Danna Segrest, costumes by Suzanne Young, lighting by Dana L. White, and sound by Brad Phillips.
Stage manager: Devin Faught with assistance by Thomas Macias; managing director: Katie Hubbard
Tickets: Available at www.purplerosetheatre.org or by calling the box office at 734-433-7673.
About the Purple Rose Theatre Company: Founded in 1991 by actor, playwright, musician and Chelsea native Jeff Daniels, the Purple Rose Theatre Company is a creative home for original American plays. In the 168-seat theatre, patrons experience an intimate encounter with live theatre.