Having many times argued that realism is a dead genre that should be left in the past, I am delighted to report that I am wrong. Realism is alive and well, and performing at the Delaware Theatre Company, in the form of Arthur Miller’s masterpiece, ALL MY SONS. A play many of us read in high school or college, this is the great piece of classic tragedy written just a year before the seminal DEATH OF A SALESMAN, which turned American tragedy on its head.
Joe Keller, a manufacturing entrepreneur who made a fortune during World War II making airplane parts, is haunted by his conviction and eventual exoneration for delivering faulty parts that lead to the deaths of 21 pilots. Though Keller was eventually cleared, his partner was not. Enter the next generation, Keller’s son, Chris, wishes to marry Annie, the daughter of Keller’s partner. The fateful day the play takes place, a tree planted in memorial for Keller’s dead son, Larry, is blown over by the wind, setting the tone for the play.
DTC’s production is stunning. The set (designer Matthew Myhrum) is huge and intricately detailed when it needs to be, and then fuzzes out the edges into shadows of neighboring houses. The aforementioned tree stands tall and downstage as the audience filters in, only to fall in the blackout at the top of the show in the cacophony of sound (designed by Michael Kiley) that begins each act.
The performances are universally strong in a cast led by PJ Benjamin (Joe Keller), Anne-Marie Cusson (Kate Keller) and Robert Eli (Chris Keller). The Kellers are each played with an earnestness for life and an intense grief for the lost Larry. Ms. Cusson’s pain is tangible from the moment she arrives onstage, and is never far from her presence. One can feel it before she even steps onstage, and it dominates throughout. Mr. Benjamin defiantly holds onto joy, success, and family for as long as it is possible, and his final moments in the show are truly breathtaking. Maia Desanti is charming, easy to love and utterly captivating, while Jered McLenigan as her brother George completely derails and retracks the story in his brief Act 2 appearance. Final lauds for Fran Prisco, as the neighbor Dr. Bayliss, who plays his role with simplicity and heart, and hits just the right notes.
The great triumph of this production, however, is its beautifully crafted story and perfect moment of catharsis at the end. Once upon a time, theatre was born as a great soul cleanser, an art form created to purge the emotions of its audience through the journey of its characters. David Stradley’s production does just that, in a way that theatre really doesn’t anymore. Every now and then, you walk into a play, and walk out again irrevocably changed. It wells up inside you as you are captivated by the production, until it releases you just at the climax of the production. I have experienced this maybe three times in 20 years of going to the theatre. This was one of them. Bravo!
ALL MY SONS runs through November 6 at the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, DE. The last couple turns are tricky to find if you’ve never been there before, so give yourself some extra time to get there.
ALL MY SONS
By Arthur Miller
Directed by David Stradley
Through November 6
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water St