All My Sons

Go to the Roundabout now and see a perfect production of a classic American play. All My Sons tells the story of Joe Keller, a successful, middle-aged, self-made man who has done a terrible and tragic thing: during World War II, rushing to meet an order from the Army, he knowingly sold them defective airplane parts which later caused the planes to crash and killed 21 men. He framed his business partner for this crime and engineered his own exoneration; now, his son is about to marry the partner's daughter, the affair is revisited, and his lie of a life is unraveled.

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Joe has spent his entire life in the singleminded pursuit of wealth for the sake of his family, an American Dream gone nightmarishly awry; this is a play about responsibility: Joe and his generation must understand that the boys he killed--all the boys in the War--were his sons, too. But Arthur Miller, who wrote this powerful and moving work in 1947, has more than just that on his mind: this is a play about all the compromises we are forced to make to live in a dishonest world, about a country's irrevocable loss of innocence, oddly timely as we sit poised to enter a new millennium.

Barry Edelstein's remarkable and deeply-felt production of All My Sons illuminates these larger themes even while reminding us by its simplicity that this is essentially a modern rendering of classical tragedy: a family is rent by the father's devastating crimes, surrounded by a chorus of neighbors and friends who observe and comment on the action. Edelstein's company of eight actors is the finest ensemble on stage in New York today. John Cullum brings enormous presence to his portrayal of Joe Keller, providing the piece with a strong and powerful center; his absences from the stage are palpable. Michael Hayden, who was terrific as Billy Bigelow in Carousel a few seasons back, is even better here as the immensely decent, ultimately disillusioned Chris; he plays the scene in which he learns the truth about Joe with his back to the audience and it's utterly wrenching: he cannot bear to show (and we could not bear to see) the pain in his face at that moment. Linda Stephens plays a surprisingly hard, painfully realistic Kate (Joe's wife); her interpretation of this role is unusual and revelatory.

Stephen Barker Turner, who plays George, the son of Joe's partner and Joe's main accuser in the piece, elevates what could be a one-note deus-ex-machina sort of role into a fully-formed man, whose own disappointments and compromises serve as effective counterpoint to Chris's. And Stephen Stout is superb as the Kellers' neighbor Jim. At the beginning of Act Three, after Chris has found out the truth about Joe and has run away, Jim has a brief speech about how Chris has gone off to be alone to watch his star go out. I had never paid attention to this speech before; after hearing Stout's reading of it, I will never forget it.