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Wednesday, 15 June 2016

All My Sons: The Heavy Hitter of the Season

Joe Ziegler as Joe Keller.
Photo by David Hou

All MySons, by Arthur Miller
Directed by Martha Henry
Designed by Douglas Paraschuk (set), Dana Osborne (costumes), Louise Guinard (lighting), Todd Charlton (sound), John Stead (fights)
Featuring Joe Zeigler, Lucy Peacock, Tim Campbell

It seems appropriate to use a baseball metaphor to describe a play about the all-American dream… even if that dream is based on a lie.

Miller’s play examines the cost and subsequent worth of the American Dream, an examination just as relevant today as they it was when it was written in 1947. America, still high on itself for winning yet another war, wasn’t interested in examining the price of winning – but Miller was.  Not on the grand scale but on the minute, day-to-day scale of regular Joes – in this case, one Joe Keller.

A businessman during the war and a good ol’ boy afterward, Joe made a business decision that cost 21 pilots their lives and sends his partner to jail. In business they call this ‘acceptable losses’ even though it is revealed as fraud; Joe says he ‘did it for his family’ so they could continue living the American Dream.

Truth will out, as the poet said.  As the play unfolds and the characters are all revealed to be living in pretended ignorant bliss or outright denial, they are caught in the churning vortex of consequence which inevitably tears them all apart. In the case of Martha Henry’s production which opened June 2, the audience is likely to feel as shattered as the characters they watch.

Lucy Peacock as Kate.
Photo by David Hou
Blame, judgement, ethics, guilt, the true nature of courage… all come to bear in this masterful play, ably directed and superbly acted. Martha Henry has directed a very moving, yet not devastating piece, not the way one would expect from a play containing all these themes, still so timely, still so significant in a Wiki-leak, Panama Papers age. With a play like this, one would expect an audience in tears or even roused to anger – they’ll still want a stiff drink after seeing it, but perhaps not tissues. I for one, wanted just a bit more.

Ms Henry did, however, assemble an exceptionally fine cast for her play. Lucy Peacock gets better and better, year after year. Here, she gives Kate the essence of a frightened but determined, intelligent woman, and she keeps audiences guessing at Kate’s true thoughts for nearly the entire play.  Ms. Peacock is a true force of nature in this role.

Actor Joe Ziegler gives the character of Joe Keller a certain flavour of shiftiness, but this Joe Keller comes across as a little too white collar, and a little too confident for a man who is supposed to have little education and a sense of ‘wonder in many commonly known things’ (as described in the play).  Mr. Ziegler’s bearing is a little too upright in portraying Keller-the-fraud, but this gives Keller-the-haunted a significant boost in impact.

The others are just as strong and it is gratifying to see some of them come to the fore – Sarah Afful, EB Smith and Michael Blake in particular; while some newer faces – Jessica B Hill, Lanise Antoine Shelley and Roderigo Beilfuss – all give character depictions that promise a bright future on Festival stages.

Joe Ziegler (foreground) as Joe Keller and Tim Campbell as
Chris Keller. Photo by David Hou.
However, the great standout performance of All My Sons is Tim Campbell as Chris Keller. Mr. Campbell brings all of Chris’s yearning, his earnestness and his anxiety just to the surface and leaves it there, simmering, until it finally erupts into complete devastation – this is a guy so desperate to believe the lie he actually comes across as truthful, so truthful that all the other characters use him as their moral barometer. In a heavy-hitting play, Mr. Campbell is the pinch-hitter, and he knocks it out of the park. 

In a season so far of triple "A" ball, Martha Henry’s production of All My Sons reminds us why the Stratford Festival is a major league player.  Catch this home run at the Tom Patterson Theatre where it continues in repertory until October 2.

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