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BWW Review: ALL MY SONS at the Stratford Festival is Memorable and Moving

A memorable and moving production of Arthur Miller's ALL MY SONS opened at Stratford Festival's Tom Patterson Theatre on Wednesday evening. It is the story of a family trying to live a post-WWII American Dream, yet unwilling to acknowledge what had to be sacrificed in order to achieve it. The entire cast brings nuanced performances to complex roles-each character relatable, and their decisions debatable. It allowed for a lot of reflection on the imperfections of humanity as this writer left the theatre and I suspect many other audience member felt the same way.

Director Martha Henry has assembled a top notch cast, eager to explore some of the most challenging questions that most people hope they will never have to face in their lifetimes-What events/choices/truths are you capable of living with-and how do you live with them in a way that you can get from day to day. These are not easy questions for anyone to answer, and the result of living with certain truths inevitably casts a significant weight on relationships both within and between families. Each character bears this weight in different ways and to differing levels of success. Each cast member has clearly taken great care to fully understand their character's motivations and inner most fears. Every principle performance is raw and honest in exploring the imperfect nature of humanity.

As family patriarch and successful businessman, Joe Keller, Joseph Ziegler excellently portrays a man who so desperately clings to the idea of the American Dream. The darker truths about how he achieved that dream constantly fester beneath the surface of everything he says and does, until they finally burst through in the final act. Mr. Ziegler's performance is captivating-particularly when going head to head with his wife (Lucy Peacock) and son (Tim Campbell).

As Kate Keller Ms. Peacock gives a nuanced performance as a woman plagued by the fact that because she knows one truth, she cannot face another. What's worse, she has gone years not even able to truly talk about this inner conflict and is left tormented by her own thoughts. Her inner anguish throughout the entire play--which is finally externalized fully in the third Act, is put on display from the very moment the play begins.

The character of Chris Keller is the closest thing to a moral compass for this play and Mr. Campbell portrays him as a man who is not afraid to speak his mind and show his emotions, who expects the best of everyone, and who has chosen to live with a nagging doubt but who will not sacrifice his morals once the doubt becomes an undeniable truth. Chris is not the perfect idealist that the other characters perceive him to be, but he is constantly striving to be the best man he can be and expects the people in his life to do the same. One of the most moving moments of the play is when his mother asks him what more someone can be than "sorry" (for a mistake) and Chris proclaims that they can be "better". The hearts in the audience break along with Chris' heart when he can no longer turn a blind eye on a truth that he has been afraid to face for so long. This is all because of Mr. Campbell's raw performance.

Sarah Afful brings a fascinating blend of strength, sweetness, innocence and a level-headed wisdom to the role of truth-teller Ann Deever. The dynamic between Ann and the Keller family is certainly an interesting one. She was to marry their presumed dead soldier-son Larry, she is now hoping to marry their other son Chris, and of course, her father is in jail for a crime that Joe is possibly actually guilty of. Ms. Afful brings depth and complexity to interactions with each of the other characters, illuminating their own complexities in the process.

The role of George Deever-Ann's brother, in this play, is very much that of a catalyst which forces the Kellers to finally acknowledge some long denied truths. Michael Blake, who portrays George, brings so much humanity to this performance, that the character could never simply be seen as a plot device.

Rounding out the cast are E.B. Smith, Lanise Antoine Shelley, Rodrigo Beilfuss, Jessica B. Hill and Maxwell Croft-Fraser as friends and neighbours of the Keller family, who act as foils and truth-tellers for the principle characters. Everyone was excellent, especially Smith, as Dr. Jim Bayliss, who captures the audience's undivided attention with his monologue about how once the light of "the star of one's honesty" goes out, it can never be re-lit. The words in this scene are highlighted (in that they are literally NOT highlighted) by Lighting Designer Louise Guinand's choice to use limited lighting, and none directly on the characters speaking, as a way to emphasize the point being made by Jim. This was incredibly effective.

This is the first production that this writer has seen at the Tom Patterson since the space was modified so that the stage is now 'in the round'. The new design to the theatre looks excellent, and Set Designer Douglas Paraschuk makes great use of the space for this play. Having the theatre be in the round also means that the Sound Design must be executed in a way so that the music and background sounds are heard clearly from every single angle. The late Todd Charlton, for whom this production has been dedicated, does this masterfully. The choice of the song "Lilac Wine" sung by Nina Simone to open each act is simply fantastic. The different lyrics emphasized for each Act really bring the audience right back into the play and its themes.

The casting and direction by Martha Henry and the moving portrayals by each cast member, make this play a Must-See this season at the Stratford Festival.

ALL MY SONS runs in Repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre through to September 25th

Photo Credit: David Hou

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