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BWW Reviews: GCT's ALL MY SONS (or Waiting for Larry)

The intimate venue at Germantown Community Theatre provides a perfect setting for a drama like Arthur Miller's ALL MY SONS, an early-but-still timely demonstration of Miller's gifts as a playwright - and, as with all of Miller's major works, a veritable feast for actors. Like the later, legendary DEATH OF A SALESMAN and the McCarthy Era-inspired THE CRUCIBLE, Miller adopts and, when necessary, bends the rules of Classical tragedy to admit the likes of "Willy Loman" and "Joe Keller" into a realm dominated by OEDIPUS and ANTIGONE. While ALL MY SONS certainly stands on its own merits as an important play, it is tempting to see the similarities between it and Miller's most famous work.

Evidently, the genesis for ALL MY SONS was a news article that Miller's own mother had brought to his attention. During the war years, an aircraft corporation had been responsible for issuing defective aircraft engines. Using this as a point of inspiration, Miller fashioned a play about a man who, though indirectly guilty in the deaths of twenty-one pilots, has been exonerated and, to secure his own reputation in the community and within his family, continued to assign the entire guilt to his former partner, who has been serving time in prison. Yet, "the truth will out," and like the blade of grass that emerges through the crack in a concrete sidewalk, it resists all efforts to bury it.

There's a line from Shakespeare's MACBETH, uttered by one of the Witches, that seems to mirror the situation of "Joe Keller" at the outset of ALL MY SONS: "You all know security is mortals' chiefest enemy," for at the outset of the play, almost everything seems on an upswing. His son "Chris," who idolizes him, is planning to marry "Ann Deever," who once had a burgeoning relationship with his older brother "Larry," declared "missing in action" (though Joe's wife "Kate" refuses to acknowledge the fact that her eldest is, indeed, dead). [The Keller family is, in fact, similar in many respects to the Lomans of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Chris' adulation and later rejection of his father prefigures the same u-turn taken by "Biff "when he learns of his father's flawed human nature; Kate's refusal to look truth in the face is like that of DEATH's "Linda," who perpetually lives in denial.] Once Ann's older brother "George," armed with the "truth," appears to prevent the marriage of his sister to his former best friend, the seemingly firm foundation of the Keller home begins to splinter.

Yet, ALL MY SONS does not have to remain under the shadow of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. It is a more conventionally straightforward play (no imaginary touches in which dead older brothers appear or the present disappears into the past, as adult sons appear bedecked in football jerseys). Furthermore, there are the neighbors, who, in their way, function as a kind of Greek chorus. Interestingly, practically everyone in the play knows, to a degree, the "crime" for which Joe has never been adequately punished; and that raises an interesting question - by accepting Joe and pretending that nothing is "wrong," to what extent are they themselves "guilty"?

Director John Maness has a firm command on this material, and he has always shown a propensity for bringing out the best in his actors. At the center of the play is Miller's "common man" as tragic hero; and as "Joe Keller," Gregory W. Boller seems to exemplify the defective engines he has been guilty of issuing - seemingly fine on the surface, but cracked beneath. Mr. Boller is a powerful actor and is an interesting choice as "Joe." One can easily see why son "Chris" looks up to him, and when Joe finally implodes as the evidence around him mounts, the effect is devastating.

As the anxious wife "Kate," holding desperately to the hope that her older son is alive, Pamela Poletti is convincingly high-strung, hopeful, and fearful for her husband and her family (I remember Ms. Poletti's early gifts as an actress in a production of Kaufman and Hart's YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU at St. Agnes Academy!); fine, too, are Marques Brown as the conscientious, idealistic "Chris" and Lena Wallace as the sensible, realistic "Ann." Special mention is reserved for Evan McCarley's "George," who, having learned of the injustice suffered by his father, must appear initially sparking on all cylinders (there are fine performances all around as Kate almost lures him back into the Keller "home"; Mr. McCarley is almost lulled into accepting even Joe until a "reality check" occurs).

With Steven Brown and Meredith Julian as the doctor and wife who now inhabit the Deever home, and Kinon Keplinger and Melissa Moore as an astrology-obsessed neighbor and his cheerful wife. Through March 22.

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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)