ALL MY SONS (People’s Light): A treat from the golden age of American theater

Excerpted by kind permission from Neals Paper.

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Michael Genet in ALL MY SONS. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Seeing a naturalistic play by one of the masters of the form, Arthur Miller, with a cast and set that are as realistic and as authentically moving as the text, is a rarity and a treat.

For the second consecutive season, director Kamilah Forbes cast Melanye Finister, Michael Genet, and Ruffin Prentiss in a piece of Americana. For the second consecutive season, Forbes and her ensemble, including Brian Anthony Wilson and G. Alverez Reid, brought forth theater that relates a story movingly and lets you see all of the personal dynamics underlying a plot, so that exceptional writing seems almost non-existent as you watch significant moments in lives unfolding.

Last season, the beneficiary of Forbes’s simple but elegantly evocative touch was August Wilson’s Fences. This year, Forbes goes back to what is looking more and more like a golden age of American playwriting. Imagine living at a time when you looked forward annually to new plays by Arthur Miller, William Inge, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Lillian Hellman, and others. What contemporary American writer’s work measure up to theirs? No one’s.

In ALL MY SONS, Miller pulls punches and withholds information, but he does so with craft and skill that adds to overall drama and springs the right surprise at the right time within the logic of his script. Miller makes getting acquainted with his characters enjoyable, while conversation and event create opportunity that leads to the dramatic.Miller’s plot is meticulously planned, but it never seems contrived or lazily composed. Miller’s craft and Forbes’s art combine to create a taut production that commands your attention, gets you involved, and excites your emotions.

Joe Keller (Michael Genet) is the perfect salesman, a different kind from Willie Loman. He does not go from town to town depending on a smile and shoeshine. He runs a business from the small town in which he lives. It’s a machine shop, a tool and dye operation, where Joe, and his one-time partner, Steve Deever, could design and manufacturer parts needed for vehicles and other machinery. Steve is now in prison for allowing some defective cylinder heads to be delivered to the Army, defective goods that caused crashes and soldiers’ deaths. Joe was cleared of criminal doing.

Genet is extraordinary is how much of a regular guy he makes Joe. Genet’s Joe is talking off the top of his head whether shooting the breeze with his next-door neighbors, cajoling his wife (Melayne Finister), kindly teasing neighborhood children, or dealing with the dilemma he helped to create and will haunt him until his death. Finister is a gem. She combines art and heart in a way that is both technically breathtaking and emotionally heartbreaking, exuding the reality of a woman who may be the loving partner of her husband but who is the direct opposite.

Their son Chris (Ruffin Prentiss) is a straight arrow who honors his mother and father, stresses honesty and probity in business and life, and who impresses his neighbors with his seriousness and willingness to pitch in to any group effort. But there is a wrinkle in his romance with Ann (Margaret Ivey) in that their fathers were  both arrested for supplying the Army with a defective product, yet Chris’s is free while Ann’s father languishes in jail and is considered a villain.

Troy Hourie’s simple yet stylized collection of well-maintained suburban houses adds to the feeling of suburban Americana. Hourie is especially clever in having the houses, with their outdoor siding, overlap in ways while making the wide Keller yard his entire downstage focal point. Marla J. Jurglanis’s costumes are right on the mark, both in terms of the ’40s period and the taste the various characters would have. Read the full review >>

[People’s Light and Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road. Malvern, PA] September 9-October 4, 2015; peopleslight.org.

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Neal Zoren for NealsPaper

Neal of the Nealspaper is a fan of all forms of live entertainment, movies, and television. He is also a constant reader and a frequent traveler. He writes for NealsPaper.com, a place for people to come to read one authoritative voice in the dialogue, and find out what might be worthwhile — or not — as you plan your entertainment outings.