“ALL MY SONS”

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ARTHUR MILLER’S “ALL MY SONS” EARNS HIGH PRAISE

Zolan Henderson and Claire Brownell in ALL MY SONS. Photographer: Pedro Zepeda.
Zolan Henderson and Claire Brownell in ALL MY SONS.
Photographer: Pedro Zepeda.

No one is writing plays today with the brilliance and depth of Arthur Miller. I was so fortunate to see two brave theaters doing him this season. Did you miss the thoroughly professional “Death of a Salesman” that Annette Trossbach did in January at The Laboratory Theater of Florida? I highly recommend you get to Lab Theater soon if you haven’t discovered them yet.

Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” is a totally dazzling production directed by that formidable Kristen Coury, and it’s on stage right now at The GulfshorePlayhouse in Naples. It’s only there until April 19th. If you want theater that is a whole lot more than just “Feel Good,” Arthur Miller is your playwright, and “All My Sons” confirms that mightily. For background, it’s the play that came before “Death of a Salesman,” and both were directed by Elia Kazan. Miller dedicated this play to Kazan, but later ended the relationship after Kazan gave names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Miller himself was never a Communist, but he certainly had left leanings. The play isn’t kind to corporations who put profit over people.

Coury, the gifted director, picked a play with true merit, a classic, and then she worked her magic. She chose a perfect cast, and drew from them their finest work. The result is the most powerful ensemble I have seen this whole season. Go just to glimpse what a team of top-flight Equity actors can deliver with a fine play and the most professional directing you will witness short of Broadway.

The plot is based on a real life event. The time is 1946, after the war. Joe Keller (played so ably by William Parry, a real anchor to the cast) had two sons. The older son, Larry, a military pilot, dies in a plane crash in the Pacific. His wife, Kate, (another star performance by Amy Van Nostrand), believes he’s still alive. The remaining son, Chris (in a most nuanced performance by Zac Hoogendyk,) grows up in the shadow of his brother, and is clearly the moral beacon in the play. One of his most powerful lines, one he hits his father in the face with in anger, is: “You can be better! Once and for all you can know there’s a Universe of people outside and you’re responsible to it.” One of the lines in the play, right near the end is Joe almost whispering, it’s so painful to say, “They are all my sons.”

Joe owned a company that made cylinder blocks for war-plane engines. He made some decisions to patch them rather than reject them, and gets arrested when 21 planes he was responsible for crash. I won’t tell you more, but oh what a gripping and enthralling series of events take place on that stage because of it. Go see for yourself. It is well worth the time of anyone committed to theater of this confronting and demanding quality.

Kristen Coury, who is also Artistic Director at GulfshorePlayhouse, quotes in her eloquent “Director’s Notes” something that Edward Albee spoke at Arthur Miller’s memorial service. “His plays hold a mirror up to us, saying, ‘This is who you are. If you don’t like what you see, don’t look away. Change!'” Albee goes on to say, “There are many very talented writers in the U.S. whose work does not matter at all, for they are content to leave people’s minds where they found them, offering escapism rather than social or political engagement.”

Go see “All My Sons.” Albee’s words will come alive. The GulfshorePlayhouse production of “All My Sons” earns a place in my “Must See” category. Not only for a superb play, and excellent direction, seemingly super human performances, but also for the production values: The set, the lights, the sounds, and the attention to all the little things that give the people who did them a right to be proud.

And as I thought of the plays I don’t go to see, plays you might have had you laughing your heads off, just know I hate farce, fluff and the escapism Albee talked about. I don’t want evenings of theater that leave me feeling, “So What?” But when I thought of contemporary plays that are almost right up there with Arthur Miller’s, I realized that three of them I had seen right here at this very theater in the recent past. Now that’s another reason to get down to Naples. They have a record of brave and courageous theater.

Here are three plays I’ll mention because I feel there are too few people writing plays like these. Suzanne Bradbeer’s “The God Game,” Matthew Lopez’ “The Whipping Man,” and Terrence McNally’s “Master Class.” Ok, I’ll acknowledge that Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park” is up there, too. Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still” is one I deeply respect, and I’ve seen it four times, and would go back for it again tomorrow, with or without Laura Linney. It would make a powerful dinner table conversation if you and your friends would talk about theater they’ve seen that was more than “so what?”

The standing thunderous ovation at the end of “All My Sons”, with so many people, still with wet eyes, deeply moved, and enthralled, tells me “All My Sons” will come close to selling out. Get your tickets very soon. Support live theater by going to it. If you don’t, who will? And bring high school and college students. They need to experience this kind of social-issue confrontational theater. They might even get something important to text message about. Live theater needs to be part of the legacy us grand parents leave them.

Get your tickets now. Call the box office at 866.811.4111 or go to the website: WWW.GULFSHOREPLAYHOUSE.org and see the dates for matinees and the evening performances. All performances are at the Norris Center, 755 8th Avenue South, in downtown Naples. I hope I see you there when I go again, before April 19th.

-Sid Simon, The Sanibel/Captiva Islander