When you put a top-flight cast together with a classic story the audience just has to sit back and enjoy what’s presented before it. And the Court Theatre provides just that with Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” continuing through Feb. 18.
The cast, led by John Judd, Kate Collins, Timothy Edward Kane and Heidi Kettenring, gives new life to Miller’s play. Set in the summer of 1946, it tells the story of Joe Keller (Judd), whose manufacturing company was contracted by the U.S. government to make cylinder heads for P-40 Warhawk fighter planes during World War II.
One of Keller’s sons, Larry, a fighter pilot, was lost in action. For the last three years, his wife Kate (Collins) clings to hope he will be found and returned home. During this time, Chris (Kane) falls in love with his lost brother’s girlfriend, Ann (Kettenring).
This sets the stage for a compelling story of truth, tragedy, and responsibility centered around the elder Keller’s unethical business practices with the government contract. The company shipped cracked cylinder heads to the Army rather than delaying delivery to remanufacture the parts and risk losing the contract. The fateful decision caused the deaths of 21 pilots.
Joe was exonerated for shipping the defective parts. However, his partner, Steve, Ann’s father, took the fall and went to jail. Ann’s brother, George (Dan Waller) arrives at the Keller house to separate fact from fiction about his father’s guilt.
A testimony to the true genius of a play and its playwright is the test of time and its relevance to any and all genre of theatre. Written in 1947, it has an interesting tie to the current state of politics. In an exchange of dialog early in the play, Ann says to Keller’s neighbor, Frank (Bradford Ryan Lund), “You still haberdashering.” And Frank responds, “Why not? Maybe I too can get to be President.”
This is a reference to then-President Harry Truman who was a partner in a haberdashery in Kansas City prior to beginning his political career. Today, 71 years later, we’re making similar references to a career leap with current President Donald Trump being a former television reality star and being elected the chief executive.
Judd has a commanding presence on stage and the entire cast are equal to the challenge of this powerful story. Waller in a short but pivotal role continues to deepen his impression on Chicago’s theater scene with a solid performance.
Director Charles Newell is strapped with set designer John Culbert’s bland six-level wooden deck stage that places the cast up and downstage at different eye levels. This creates an obstacle to attaining the tension needed for this piece. Fortunately, the actors make the necessary compensations to deliver stellar performances. Additionally, Newell should move the dirt pile from an uprooted tree off the bottom step to the rim of the stage to avoid some hazardous footing, particularly for Collins.
This is one of Miller’s best plays. It was based on a story he read about a company in Ohio that had undergone a similar scandal and the effect it had on the family that operated the business.
The play reminds us of the perils of war, the casualties are not only buried on the battlefield but also in the hearts of the family and friends at home.
I give “All My Sons” three stars (out of four), one for Miller’s great script, one for the excellent cast and one for all the sons – and daughters – who paid the ultimate price in wars throughout the history of the United States as well as the world.
“All My Sons” continues at the Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., in Chicago, through Feb. 18. For tickets and information, call the box office at (773) 753-4472 or visit the website at www.CourtTheatre.org.