All My Sons
ALLAN HENNESSY is unimpressed with a performance that fails to bring Miller’s genius to life
One member of the cast is said to enjoy ‘hunting through time and space in an imaginary TARDIS’ in his spare time – it is hoped that the rest will join him on a journey back to acting school.
The opening night of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons was a poor performance salvaged by the phenomenal script of a literary genius, a polite audience and stellar performances from Gabriel Cagan and Lauren Brown.
Just to reiterate, Miller is arguably, along with Tennessee Williams, the best American playwright of the 20th century. All My Sons is an intricately constructed script, which provocatively criticises the American Dream, commercialism, corruption and war.
In so doing, Miller beautifully depicts the emotional turmoil associated with grief, uncertainty, false hope and love.
The Kellers have been left broken after their son Larry goes missing during World War II; his brother, Chris, falls in love with his mourning girlfriend, Ann, and pursues her hand in marriage. Larry’s mother, Kate, lives in the hope that, one day, he will return, while his father lives in guilt after knowingly selling defective aeroplanes to the US army, which killed 21 men.
Yet, despite all of this drama, the lacklustre performance disappointingly failed to excite.
Firstly, American accents – don’t do them if you can’t. It might be worth reminding the crew that All My Sons is set in America and not in Dublin; Larry’s traumatised, mentally unstable mother is certainly not an Irish Mammy, or at least Arthur Miller did not intend for her to be one.
More upsetting, however, was the lack of rapport and chemistry between the cast, most notably in the relationship between Chris and Ann, who are allegedly besotted by each other. (Not even a bit of Westlife could rekindle their spark.)
Instead of tugging at audience’s heartstrings, it was uncomfortable to watch Chris declare his undying love for Ann. Similarly, the audience remained uncomfortable all throughout the second-half, which was essentially a shouting match between all the actors on stage. The performances were, quite frankly, forced.
That said, my unofficial Performance of the Night Award goes jointly to Gabriel Cagan and Lauren Brown, who respectively played Ann’s brother, George, and the Kellers’ mouthy neighbour, Sue Bayliss.
Cagan brought energy to the stage, as he did in his brilliant appearance in Blue Stockings earlier in the year; his energetic and emotional last-ditch attempt to stop sister Ann from marrying into the Keller family reminded us once again of the destructive nature of love.
Brown, playing cynical Sue Bayliss, comically and accurately represented America’s distaste towards ‘phoney idealism’ in an age of realism. But these wonderful performances were too little, too late.
Despite its poor execution, All My Sons serves as an important reminder about the trauma and grief that war brings about, not least in the current international climate.
Joe Keller’s famous words, ‘I guess they are all my sons,’ invites us to show some collective responsibility towards each other.
No one is a winner in war; All My Sons, albeit poorly, confirms this.