There’s nothing like a war to clarify the greater mysteries of life. When the very real stakes of life and death reveal what matters to you, and who you are underneath it all. For the three men of the Keller family, the war was a reckoning that none of them could have foretold.
Ann (Nicole Harwood) hasn’t been back to her hometown in a long time and her return coincides with a number of events, accidents, and conversations that reawaken a series of questions she thought she’d left behind. Mrs Keller (Leigh Scanlon) is still waiting for her missing son Larry, Ann’s sweetheart, to return from the war, a possibility Mr Keller (Dave Went) and Chris Keller (Julian Floriano) had let go a long time ago. And the rest of the town is still holding on to the reason Ann and her family left the community: her father’s conviction for knowingly shipping out defective plane parts to the American Armed Forces, a crime he blamed Mr Keller for from his arrest. But Ann and Chris are optimistic about the future and hope that the rest of the town will embrace their engagement. They can’t have known that this summer would reveal both the answers to where Larry is and what really happened with the defective parts, two truths that would unravel everything else they thought to be true.
Arthur Miller’s 1946 script is a sinewy story about two families that gets to the heart of American nationalism and the conception of the nation as a family. At the same time it considers the large human questions of greed, guilt, honesty, integrity, and forgiveness in the face of circumstances that demand sacrifice. While the conflict focuses less on the struggle between right and wrong, Miller’s expertly crafted script builds tension and intrigue through the slow revelation of why.
Director Jan Mahoney showed clear insight into the script through an embrace of the unknown, from the neighbour’s unfounded gossip to the slight twitch of a facial expression that gives it all away. The set design by Maureen Cartledge was particularly brilliant for its translation of the play’s social tension into the staging. With the Kellers’ house’s facade angled across the stage, their yard became a liminal space between the public space of the neighbourhood and their private home interior, which amplified the disparity between the public knowledge of gossip, reputation, and social expectation and the private knowledge of family secrets, personal grudges, and niggling suspicions. The sound design by Bernard Teuben was subtle with contextualising swing music punctuating the interval, while the lighting design by Sean Churchward added another element of stress with a silhouetted fighter plane haunting the stage as an ever-deepening sunset illustrated the passing hours. The production design, combined with Mahoney’s directorial focus on the highly pressurised dynamics in the Keller home and the nuanced characterisation of each individual, demonstrated a sophisticated and deeply engaging approach to the production.
The performances across the cast were consistently strong in constructing the atmosphere of suburban post-war America. The central couples were particularly remarkable for their complex characterisation as individuals and duos. Scanlon gave a frustratingly good performance as a mother trapped in her own denial, which was well-matched by Went’s portrayal of calculated self-righteousness. The stiffness of the Kellers’ perspective of protecting their immediate family through any means necessary was convincingly conveyed by Scanlon and Went with ruinous results. On the other hand, the sanctimonious interpretation of Chris by the critical neighbours Mr and Mrs Bayliss (Steve Rowe and Tracey Okeby Lucan) was cleanly subverted by Floriano’s earnest and sympathetic performance of a young man encountering the world’s hypocrisy for the first time. With Harwood’s equally sweet and stubborn Ann, the two formed a compelling picture of Miller’s prophecy for America’s future generations, even if the overall tone of the production was grim. Another note should be made of Dimitri Armatas’s performance as Ann’s brother George, who burst in with troubling news from their father that further upset the delicate balance at play. Armatas’s performance was sincere in its frantic, distressed nature which proved impressively effective at disrupting and redirecting the tone of the production. As a cast, the performances were professional, complex, and engaging with a refined understanding of the script as a balance of social commentary and interpersonal conflict.
All My Sons is the Castle Hill Players at their best with a challenging, uncomfortable script produced with care and craft for a new audience in a new world facing the same stakes.
All My Sons is running at the Pavilion Theatre from July 29th – August 20th