All My Sons

Stage

All My Sons theatre review (Eternity Playhouse, Sydney)

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Simon Stone should see Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s All My Sons. This production (kicking off the 2014 season prematurely at the brand spanking new Eternity Playhouse) of Arthur Miller’s highly awarded, post-war play, directed on Broadway by Elia Kazan, shows every sign of being a worthy rival to the original. Director Iain Sinclair has played it straight and true. I mention Stone because, while I’ve lauded much of his work, not least his radical Hamlet, his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof still sticks in my craw. For the sake of ‘branding’, for example, he dropped the deep southern accents so intrinsic to the setting of Tennessee William’s favourite play. While I’d be the first to concede there are many plays which can be transplanted to the here-and-now, this one is more difficult and the evidence is Stone didn’t take full account of the degree of difficulty. Dramatic change isn’t always the radical decision. Sometimes, it has a deeply conservative underpinning. A director may be afraid to take what he or she perceives as ‘same old, same old’ to an audience. Sometimes, it’s more ‘radical’, or at least more courageous, to do the very best you can with one of the very best plays in the contemporary canon. This is what Sinclair has done.
One of the other reasons I immediately thought of Stone is that, as in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Marshall Napier fronts in All My Sons, as the patriarch and here is supported by a very effective cast. But I’ll come to that. Production designer Luke Ede provides a homestead façade with a screen door only lit as required, so, much of the time, we have a creeping sense of a dark secret hidden deep inside. The fascia of the house is suggested by means of boards affixed randomly across the horizontal plane. There’s a pervasive sense of dilapidation. In front, tired garden furniture sits on a still-green lawn, perhaps the last vestige of family pride; a dignified face to show around the neighbourhood. Ede’s is a vital contribution, providing much more than a set and accoutrement: there are signs and shadows; hints and clues; narrative threads.
Sinclair’s surefooted direction (and one presumes dramaturge Dan Graham’s input) creates a cohesive production. Nate Edmondson’s composition and sound design is minimal (less is more) and disciplined, while Nicholas Rayment’s lighting strikes the right balance between sunshine and gloom. Gabrielle Rogers has helped the actors soundly nail the accents.
Even the smaller parts are filled well. Mary Rachel Brown makes Sue Bayliss, ex-nurse, successful doctor’s wife and next door neighbour to the Kellers, bitter-and-twisted, but compassion leaks out the sides. As with all Miller’s roles, it’s complex and difficult to pull off, but Brown rocks. Briallen Clarke’s Lydia Lubey (the pretty girl who “laughs too much”, has never moved away and has settled into the role of wife and mother) beams and bubbles, but always with a pervasive sense of regret beneath her broad, irresistible smile. Robin Goldsworthy ably plays her husband, Frank, a steadfast man who buries himself in astrology, presumably because he can’t bear accepting the arrangement of the stars as they are: he’s desperate for something to shift.
Anthony Gooley’s George Deever had all the bona fide sweaty, shaking disposition of a man about to confront a wall of opposition. Every fibre of his being seems to twitch with foreboding: the certain, visceral knowledge of a truth too painful to bear. Meredith Penman is Annie, a young woman set to marry the brother of her MIA boyfriend, her struggle with disapproval versus self-determination worn on her almost constantly furrowed brow. Toni Scanlan is Kate Keller, the mother of Larry. Somewhere, deep down, she knows her son is never coming back, but she’s buried herself under a doona of denial and can’t bear to come out from under it. Marshall Napier is the resilient Joe Keller, a pillar of the community, who’s covered up his culpability in the deaths of 21 young conscripts. On his behalf, his junior partner has languished in gaol, but still he has persisted with an awful charade.
All of these actors give robust performances but it’s arguably Andrew Henry’s repressed Chris Keller, the brother left behind, a man with promise, position and a substantial inheritance of blood money, who steals most of the attention. His intensity and containment exude a terrible energy that hovers and circles and finally explodes.
Sinclair, his cast and creatives ensure the hero of this production is Miller’s underexposed play, in whose characters we’re sure to find pieces of ourselves and those we love, try to, or must love, by dint of family ties. There isn’t a single squandered line of dialogue. No stone (pardon the pun) is unturned. No subtlety or opportunity to explicate plot or people missed. I’d like to say there’s little to fault in Sinclair’s production. But that’s not quite true. There’s really nothing to fault. It’s a rock solid production of a play that makes you shake your head in wonderment: can anyone writing plays today right as well, tautly, movingly or authentically?
It seems Darlinghurst Theatre Company has opened Eternity Playhouse with the blessing of Arthur Stace, the Eternity Man, who scrawled the word in beautiful, chalked copperplate script on the footpaths of Sydney for 35 years and who used to worship at the former Baptist Tabernacle, a hallowed hall given a new lease of life. God may’ve left the building, but there’s a new spirit here.
That’s what we thought. Read what the other critics say.
[box] All My Sons plays Eternity Playhouse until December 1. Tickets are available via Darlinghurst Theatre Company.[/box]

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