Review: A Stunning Take on A Classic Piece, Makes This Top-Notch ALL MY SONS One to Remember at TampaRep

This exquisite company deserves to be seen and lauded for their truly beautiful work on display through June 18, 2023.

By: Jun. 03, 2023
Review: A Stunning Take on A Classic Piece, Makes This Top-Notch ALL MY SONS One to Remember at TampaRep

“God does not let a son be killed by his father...” -Kate

“You lay forty years into a business and they knock you out in five minutes, what could I do, let them take forty years, let them take my life away...” -Joe

Arthur Miller's subliminal masterpiece in a Three-Act structure All My Sons is what Miller considered his last-ditch effort at writing a commercially successful play. You see Miller's first play The Man Who Had All the Luck failed miserably on Broadway lasting a total of four performances. Miller considered throwing in the towel prior to writing All My Sons.

All My Sons is based on a true story found by his then Mother-in-Law in a local Ohio Newspaper. The WAC (Wright Aeronautical Corporation) conspired with Army Inspection Officers to approve and ship out damaged engines.

Miller's play outlines the very basis of the American Dream and even though his work was often criticized for such notions, he took inspiration from Ibsen's Wild Duck, where moral responsibility is divided between two business partners, one taking the fall for the other.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1947 and played 328 performances before closing in November of 1949. Featuring a cast of 10 characters, the play follows the life of the Kellers, a well-known family in the late summer of 1946. Joe Keller the patriarch of the family is our "Everyman" in Miller's play. Kate Keller is the distraught and grieving mother and wife of Joe Keller. Frank and Lydia Lubey are next-door neighbors. Lydia is seen as a homemaker, while her husband haberdashes and works on Astrological Horoscopes. Jim and Sue Bayliss, also neighbors are a well-known Doctor and his wife who was a Nurse at one point in her life. Despite the "Everyman" nature of Joe Keller, we meet Chris Keller one of two sons of the Keller's who has it in his heart that people can be better and spends the majority of the play convincing others to believe the same while vying after Ann's heart. Ann Deever was once in love with Larry prior to his death and has come back to the Kellers in search of Marriage. An unlikely visit from Anne's brother George brings the real struggles to light as the truth is all brought out into the open. Joe learns the error of his ways, and how decisions affect everyone around him even those closest to him. The real tragedy of the piece is the moral ambiguity and the idea that Joe Keller believes no matter what, "You can't crucify a man.."

Our friends at Tampa Repertory Theatre close out their 2022/2023 season with Arthur Miller’s masterpiece that can be and should be regarded as one of the “finest pieces of American Theatre.” TampaRep remains steadfast and true to its mission in continuing to bring the Classics to life, and with All My Sons the mission has never been more perfectly represented than by the work of the talented performers, designers, and all who put their heart and soul on display every night for the patrons.

The testament set forth by C. David Frankel, and as performer Ned Averill-Snell posted more recently in a Social-Media post, “...I think he would be proud that what he and Emilia and I set in motion a dozen years ago, and which he nurtured so richly until he passed, came to this, and will go on, and grow. Thanks David.”

No finer statement could ever have been said, that represents the truly exceptional, and remarkable work on display by all involved.

From top to bottom, the performances on display are of the highest of caliber.

Ned Averill-Snell leads our cast as Joe Keller, a role that was destined for him to play. Perfectly wounded, and grounded in every aspect, his Joe Keller is nothing short of one of the finest performances I have had the pleasure of witnessing. Even for as broken, and wounded as Joe is and becomes, you find yourself believing every single word. Hanging on to his plight with every breath, and becoming one with the broken shell of a man on display before you. If there ever was a performance so deeply rooted in real human emotion from start to finish it would be that of Ned’s Joe Keller. You never once see a performer putting on a costume and playing a “part,” but in this instance, you get a sense of total embodiment where the actor doesn’t just play the role, they become the character one in the same. If you get the chance to experience the exceptional work Ned provides, you will be witnessing one of, if not the best performance by a local area performer to date.

As Kate Keller, Emilia Sargent is a powder keg ready to explode. You sense the underlying pain and feel for her plight. The marvel of work on display here not only lies in the dialogue, but in the non-verbals, the facial expressions, and the general sense of her movement through the space. The moment in which she is preparing green beans while in the midst of a conversation is a stunning moment. You hear each snap of the beans, and with each snap, you experience a change in Kate. Emilia is always ever present on stage, and in the moment from start to finish, and here is no exception. Having experienced her stunning performance earlier this season as Nora in A Doll’s House Part 2, her Kate is something next level. Nothing is forced, everything is naturally grounded in the pain a mother feels at the loss of a child, and in this, you find Kate’s natural human condition. Exceptional work by TampaRep’s Producing Artistic Director, Emilia’s Kate Keller is one for the record books and one that will be seared into my memory for time to come.

Harrison Baxley takes on one of the more difficult roles in the show, and his work presented here as Chris Keller is his finest performance to date. He breathes new life into the role, and we believe every word he says. You feel his pain and anguish when coming to rears with his father, you feel the love he has for Ann, and the concern he has for his mother. If ever there was a role in which he was born to play, this would be that role. Always exceptional in his performances, but there is something about this role, this performance, this moment that places Harrison on another level, and the ascension is felt in every corner of the room.

Pauline Lara is wonderful here as Ann Deever. You can see in her demeanor why Chris would be over the moon for her. She is sweet in her moments with Chris, and strong in her moments with George. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and she is not afraid to bring the audience along for the ride. There was a moment early on in the show, where her believability was questioned. You want to feel her love for Chris as strong as we feel his for her, and the moment of confession made you question for a second if she truly loves him or not. Outside of that minor moment, Pauline’s performance is full of heart.  Her moments with George drive the second act, and you really get the sense of the brother and sister connection. Her strongest moments in the show come late in the performance when she confronts Kate. Outstanding work from Pauline as Ann Deever, and a wonderful addition to the company.

As George Deever, James Putnam is a ticking time bomb and one to watch out for. From the moment he enters till the time he leaves, you get a sense of his purpose and feel for his plight. His confrontation with Chris is astounding, and even in the non-verbals James is exceptional. The silence in moments is perfectly placed, and that breath of air allows the audience to run the roller-coaster of emotions right along with the characters in the story.

Calee Gardner as Sue Bayliss is every neighborhood busybody. Only in it to stir the pot, and ruffle feathers. Calee does this role so much justice, you feel the pretentious nature of Sue ooze off of her. Much like if Sue was a character on Desperate Housewives, you get the uncomfortable aura filling the room anytime she enters and her moments are nothing short of exceptional. Grounded in every moment, Calee is wonderful here.

As Frank Lubey, Jonathan O’Brien is always a joy to watch. Having experienced Jonathan’s work in other local area productions, this is by far the most grounded in delivery that I have ever experienced in him. Testament to not only the growth of this talented performer but is also a testament to the work of exceptional direction. Frank is one of those characters, that is almost a responsive character, that only talks to add his two cents, or when he is spoken to, but Jonathan’s portrayal is something much more here. You find yourself interested in his plight, and the intrigue Jonathan brings to this moment is a great addition to the story.

Noa Freidman is great as Lydia. Buzzing in and out between heated moments, and almost acting as the comic relief in moments. Her strongest moment comes in her short interaction with George. There is a lingering intimacy between the two characters that is not only on display in the dialogue but in staging as well. For the touch of a hand can often prove to mean so much. Another outstanding performance from Noa.

As Dr. Jim Bayliss, Drew Brown is a great addition to the company. He’s in and out of the scenes as much as any neighbor would be. However, its the scene with Kate at the top of Act 3 that we really get a sense of who Jim Bayliss is. For me, this is where his story fell flat, and was missing this almost empathy quality to him. You want to get the sense that he is a prisoner to his wife’s commands and that he only is where he is in life because of her, but that moment is lost. There is a great moment where he speaks of, “...usual darkness...” and the depth of his character was only surface deep. We want to see his version of “usual darkness,” get a feel for what the means to him, and in turn see it drive his character in certain moments, otherwise he comes across as the Dr. who lives next door.

As Bert, Jacob Pham is a delight. Only briefly in the story a couple of times, but in doing so you get to see not only his comedic timing, but also the warmth in Joe Keller. A wonderful addition to the company.

As stated above, from performances, to design elements, and Direction, TampaRep’s All My Sons is an exceptional effort and one of, if not the strongest Ensemble to be presented on stage to date.

At its helm is the exceptional Direction of Christopher Marshall, who breathes fresh new life into this American Classic. Not only are Steven K. Mitchell’s design elements helping drive Christopher’s vision of this world, but it’s in every moment as well. Through his keen eye of Direction and steadfast approach, the story of the Keller’s is one of the most grounded and real performances seen to date. In speaking with audience members following the performance, many said, “It’s like we were watching real-life people, not just performers playing characters.” The true embodiment of each of these performer’s into the roles of these characters is a true testament to the powerful work created by Marshall and the team. There is a real humanity to this piece, that is not lost on Marshall and Company. We are transported from start to finish and fully involved in every aspect of their lives.

Steven K. Mitchell’s Scenic Design brings out the realism needed for presenting this Arthur Miller piece. That is one thing about Arthur Miller, his work is so grounded in realism there is not a lot of wiggle room, and flawless in design, Steven K. Mitchell’s scenic work, would make Miller himself exceptionally proud. With the construction talents of Paul McColgan and Scenic Painting by Chloe Mastro, Mitchell’s design was executed with the utmost perfection and attention to detail.

Lighting Design by Jayce Bertucelli lends well to the world of the show, and the lives of these characters. Working seamlessly with the set design, the lighting helped evoke moments in the show to tell this story.

Costumes by Melli Mossey and Sofia Pickford were structured exceptionally well and lend itself to the time period of the story. Each piece gave the characters their own individual personalities and allowed us to be transported from the modern world into the world of the show. A beautiful addition to the outstanding technical aspects of this performance.

The stage management team of Jessie Dorsey and Connor Averill-Snell kept the show moving at a steady pace, whereas the audience never got a sense we were even watching a show. We felt transported from start to finish.

If one thing is for certain, it is that our friends at TampaRep have struck theatrical gold here in every sense of the word. From top-notch Direction, exceptional casting, and exquisite design elements, All My Sons is without a doubt the strongest endeavor by a local company to date. If you choose to see this piece, and you best make every effort to, as there are only 50 seats in the entire venue, then be sure to watch every single aspect of this production and pay attention to every single character onstage, for you will find something to love in every facet of this incredible production. Do so for the human nature of this piece, because not often does a piece this grounded in the human condition come along and get displayed at the level currently being presented here. The grounded nature of every performer, and the true artistry is a testament to the depth of the work from everyone involved. All My Sons will pull at every heartstring, and judging by the amount of heart put into every inch of the performance, and not a dry eye in the house on opening, this will be one performance that will remain seared into my memory and the memory of this community for years to come.

“Will you say to them when I’m gone

I loved your son for his sturdy arms...

We both learned to cradle then live without...”

(Each Coming Night, Iron &Wine, Album: Our Endless Numbered Days)

Tickets can be purchased by visiting Click Here.

Photo Credit: Ashley Emrick

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