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Family Affairs

                "One look at this set, and you know it's a period piece," Everyman Theater artistic director Vincent Lancisi noted before the start of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons."  A solid slice of American family drama, the setting is the front porch and yard of the Kellers, post-Waltons and pre-Cleaver.  It's 1946, a time when the nation is still healing from the Second World War. For the Kellers, there are wounds borne and wounds yet to be inflicted, pains suffered and to be suffered because of how each character comes to define "family."

                For patriarch Joe Keller (Carl Schurr), Family. Is. ALL. Exonerated for murder when his business partner, Steve, was found guilty of shipping defective airplane cylinder heads, resulting in the deaths of over 20 pilots, Joe plans to turn over his business to his son, Chris (Clinton Brandhagen). Joe's wife, Kate (Deborah Hazlett), refuses to believe her other son, Larry, who never returned from the war, is dead, a belief she reaffirms through the astrological readings of neighbor, Frank (Drew Kopas).

                Everyone knows their roles. Joe is the affable, 3-piece suited sage who entertains the local kids, like Bert (Thomas Langston).  Chris is the son in J. Keller & Son. And Kate searches the newspapers for miracle stories of long-missing GIs who find their way home.

                The tenuous balance of the Keller family is thrown irrevocably off kilter by the arrival of Ann (Beth Hylton), Steve's estranged daughter,  Larry's former intended, who hopes for a proposal from Chris...something Kate cannot and will not accept. Soon ugly truths about what happened with those cracked cylinder heads comes to light thanks to accusations by Steve's son, George (Tim Getman). Providing some insights about small town life and marriage are Dr. Jim Bayliss (Bruce Randolph Nelson) and his wife, Sue (Megan Anderson), and Frank and his wife, Lydia (Jjana Valentiner).

                It's an Arthur Miller play, so the family dysfunction is as layered as a Smith Island cake. "They should distribute Prozac to the audience," my theater companion said. Not that the play is depressing, though the subject matter is hardly "feel good."

               Watching the Keelers have their respective worlds torn apart with Greek-tragedy-caliber truths too horrible to bear is unsettling, but riveting, especially given the top flight performances of the Everyman ensemble. As Lancisi noted before the start of the play, the Everyman troupe is a family of artists whose years together, learning each other's strengths and styles,  results in measured performances of power and quality, and that was clearly in evidence at Friday evening's performance if the standing ovation at the play's final curtain was any indication.

               While it's been 63 years since "All My Sons" opened on Broadway in 1947, the play strikes a chord with modern audiences as it surely did more than a half century ago. What will a man sacrifice for the sake of his family? For Joe Keller, there is no sacrifice too great. "A father is a father," he explains as though that is an explanation for any behavior, no matter how ethically heinous. But as Chris relates, there's family beyond blood like the brotherhood that occurs on the battlefield. Are not these other young men Joe's sons too? Do we not have a responsibility to them a well? When Chris and Joe square off over this issue, the debate is hardly philosophical-the stage overflows with the characters' anger, confusion, pain, desperation and even violence.

               There's a reason the Everyman Theater is now celebrating 20 years-they deliver exemplary performances, well directed, with exquisite attention to the detail, from the sets and props to the costumes, to the interpretation of each playwright's work they bring to life on stage.

               "All My Sons" continues its run at the Everyman at 1727 North Charles Street through Dec. 12th with performances Wednesday through Sunday.  For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or go online to www.everymantheatre.org.


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From This Author Daniel Collins