Think arthur miller, and you think of his two theatrical icons: A Death of a Salesmanand The Crucible.The immensity of his artistic success in both tends to overshadow the power of Miller's earlier work, All My Sons,his 1947 exploration of private morality and social responsibility.
Based on this production of All My Sons at South Coast Repertory,it's time to re-evaluate the play's rank in 20th-century American drama. Rarely does a production feel this compelling. Rarely does a cast so obviously deserve the standing ovation this one received Tuesday night.
All My Sons is a genuine American classic about many things: the lies we tell ourselves and one another, the conflict between practicality and idealism, and the dangers of unchecked capitalism. But what you can't shake after experiencing director Martin Benson's nuanced production is how quite decent people can perpetrate a great evil merely because they are willing to compromise.
That great evil involves the loss of 21 American pilots during World War II, deaths caused by cracked cylinder heads made in a factory owned by Joe Keller (a spellbinding Peter Michael Goetz). The truth behind Keller's role in the tragedy is tied to the fate of his eldest son, Larry, reported missing in action three years earlier. When Larry's younger brother Chris (a convincing Simon Billig) invites Larry's former girlfriend to the Keller home, his father and mother are forced to confront the ghosts, imagined and otherwise, that have haunted the family since the war.
Space prohibits the lavishing of appropriate kudos. But let's take a moment, though too briefly, to applaud the fascinating Linda Gehringer as Mrs. Keller and Nancy Bell as the girlfriend, and then move on to say that All My Sons ranks among the finest plays to grace SCR's Mainstage in five years. Powerful and deeply moving, this is one of those rare local productions that approaches greatness.
All My Sons, South Coast Repertory's Mainstage, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555. Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m. Through April 1. $28-$47.