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Theater Tue Nov 05 2013

All My Sons: A Gut-Wrenching Experience at Eclectic Theatre

Arthur Miller's classic drama All My Sons is set in 1947, in the aftermath of World War II. Its story weaves together a mother's grief at the loss of a son and the manufacturing negligence that caused the deaths of dozens of wartime fliers.

Eclectic Full Contact Theatre's cast and director do an outstanding job of telling this story, and parsing out the details suspensefully throughout the two acts. Director David Belew keeps the action moving along smoothly and maintains the mood of tragedy that looms over the play from the first scene.

AllMySons-GB.jpg

Elliott, Kurysz and Green. Photo by Jazmin Corona Photography.

The play is set in the cozy backyard of the home of Joe and Kate Keller (David Elliott and Julie Partyka). The story opens on a summer Sunday morning; a storm has knocked down the tree the family planted as a memorial to Larry, a fighter pilot whose plane disappeared three years ago. He is considered missing in action. Kate believes he is alive and will come home; the rest of the family knows her hope is futile.

Their son Chris (Jeff Kurysz) has invited Ann Deever (Tracey Green), his brother's sweetheart and the girl he loves, to visit the family, which sets up the drama to come. Ann's father Steve was Joe Keller's partner in the aircraft part manufacturing business. One batch of cracked cylinder heads was shipped out and resulted in the crashes of 21 P40 fighter planes. Both partners knew about the faulty parts and both were charged and found guilty; but Joe was exonerated after a short prison term. Steve is still in prison; his children have been estranged from their father.

Kate is opposed to Ann's visit because she fears that Chris wants to marry her. That's impossible because Larry is still alive, she says. Joe is also in denial. He believes that neighbors, who called them murderers at the time, have forgotten now. "You play cards with a man, you know he can't be a murderer." And in fact the Kellers' neighbors - the Baylisses (Patrick Iven and Nancy Kolton) and the Lubeys (Kevin Webb and Amy Gorelow) -- take part in ongoing family conversations in the back yard.

The tragic pace speeds up in act two when Ann's brother George (Charlie Rasmann) visits his father in prison and then comes to the Keller home to confront Joe with the guilt he shares with Steve Deever. "My father was too meek, too weak to make the decision on his own to send out those faulty parts," George accuses Joe.

Joe tries to justify his actions to Chris. "Who worked for nothin' in that war? When they work for nothin', I'll work for nothin'. It's dollars and cents, nickels and dimes; war and peace. What's clean? Half the goddam country is gotta go if I go."

The denouement comes in an old letter from Larry that Ann has saved. It tells the Kellers that their son had seen the news reports about the faulty parts and his father's role in the plane crashes. After reading the letter, Joe says: "Sure he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were." The ending, building from the first scene, is inevitable.

Elliott provides a fine, believable performance as Joe Keller, as does Partyka as Kate. At first I thought Kurysz seemed too young and hesitant as Chris, but his performance deepened and was ultimately solid. Patrick Iven's technical design for the backyard set, sound and lights is excellent.

All My Sons premiered in 1947 and won a New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Film versions were produced in 1948 and 1987. [I once performed the part of Kate in a college theater production of the play in Wisconsin, so this play has a special meaning for me.]

Even though the play was first performed 66 years ago, it is very relevant today. The director's note in the playbill observes: "The show is amazingly timeless. The actors discussed that if you changed the script references from World War II to Iraq or Afghanistan, the show would play perfectly well in modern day."

And so it does.

Eclectic Full Contact Theatre's All My Sons through November 17 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 S. Southport Ave.Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-935-6875.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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