BWW Review: ALL MY SONS at The Vagabond Players
"There are no facts, only interpretations."
It is how characters view life and the value they place on it that is at the core of Arthur Miller's ALL MY SONS, directed by Michael Byrne Zemarel at the Vagabond Players Theater in downtown Baltimore.
Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Vagabond puts on a production more powerful than a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, a WWII air fighter that plays a pivotal role in Miller's work about family secrets and debunking the American dream.
Miller's work is inspired from a true-life incident from the 1940s when members of the Wright Aeronautical Corporation conspired with U.S. Army inspection officers to approve defective military aircraft engines. In Miller's play, set in 1946, 21 American WWII pilots lose their lives due to cracked engine cylinder heads, and who bears that blame is the fire that boils the plot.
Jeff Murray plays Joe Keller, a simple man who finds cultural insights in the daily newspaper want ads, nonplussed by what people are searching for, when clearly life is nothing more than taking care of one's immediate family. Murray brings an intense range of emotion in the character of Joe, obsessed with preserving his "Leave it to Beaver" reality, yet at the same time, working feverishly to conceal a terrible crime.
Carol Conley Evans plays Joe's wife, Kate, the human embodiment of the psychological concept of Denial. For Kate, all that matters is that she can prove to herself that her son Larry, a fighter pilot whose plane went missing in the war, is still alive. Kate employs the affable Frank Lubey, whom Nick Cherone plays as the eternally cheerful and prolific next door neighbor with questionable skills at writing horoscopes.
Evans' Kate is the mirror image of her husband, Joe...another symbol of post-war America, all Mayberry-Aunt-Bea-caring, but it's a façade that seems ready to crack, like Joe's factory's engine parts. Evans plays Kate as cheerily upbeat on the outside, but running like mad woman inside, desperate to maintain the illusion and her sanity, as the truth of her son's death and what that means to her marriage would blow her apart.
The play opens with the characters' observances about a downed tree, planted in honor of Larry, but torn down by a wind storm. Does this fallen tree mean, as Kate hopes, that Larry is alive, it being "too soon" to plant a sapling in remembrance? Or perhaps it is symbolic of something else-can new life spring from earth that remains tainted?
There's a second tree still growing in this questionable soil-Sean Kelly's Chris Keller, Larry's brother, who has survived the war and returned home, filled with hope and idealism, but not without battle scars of his own. The bomb that drops in Kellers' midst is a beauty name Anne Deever (Rachel Roth), literally the "girl next door" who moved to New York, and arrives for a visit on the behest of Chris. Anne is a mirror of Kate, two women driven nearly to madness in pursuit of a dream, only Anne holds a truth that may make hers come true while destroying Kate's.
Rounding at the cast are David Shoemaker as Anne's brother, George, whose character burns and festers with a desire for revenge for a father wronged, but is nearly taken in by the Kellers' white-picket-fence illusion and memories of a love lost--Frank's wife, Lydia (Barbara Madison) and the peaceful dream of family that shrouds her. Child actor Samuel Dye adroitly plays local boy, Bert, whose interest in policing the neighborhood sparks a major argument between Kate and Joe that goes to the heart of the dark truth at this play's core.
Thom Sinn is the cynical Dr. Jim Bayliss who has already sacrificed his dream (to become a medical researcher) for the sake of a regular income, and Kathryn Falcone's Sue Bayliss, Jim's wife, who is the stalwartly practical reason for Jim's sacrifice. The exchange between Sue and Roth's Anne about Chris's "idealistic" influence on Sue's husband is just as biting and bitter today as it must have been 60 years ago when this play first debuted, the battle between doing what you love versus doing what pays the bills.
Miller was a playwright of incredible vision, creating in this play a battle of evolving values, the need for people to look beyond what's in their "own backyard" to embrace a commitment...nay, a responsibility...to others.
The Vagabond Players' presentation of ALL MY SONS continues its run at 806 South Broadway in Fells Point, now through Oct. 2nd. For more details and ticket information, call 410-563-9135 or visit www.vagabondplayers.org.