Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.
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October 31-November 6, 2002

theater

Sons Also Rises

The success Arthur Miller earned in 1947 for All My Sons was eclipsed two years later by his Death of a Salesman. Salesman won the Pulitzer Prize and instantly became canonical -- the model of what a contemporary American tragedy could be.

Nowadays, Sons is usually thought of as juvenilia, interesting mostly as a precursor to later Miller plays. But the Arden's often spellbinding production makes a compelling case for Sons' importance.

In a pleasant midwestern town, the Keller family -- Joe and Kate, and their adult son Chris -- knows postwar peace and prosperity. Ironically, the war forged business success for Joe. Kate remains a devoted wife. Chris (who has joined his father's business) is handsome, respectful, caring -- everything a son should be.

Yet the family is haunted. Several years ago, another son, Larry, a fighter pilot, disappeared overseas. He's officially reported as still "missing," but the family has accepted his death -- all but Kate, that is, who refuses to give up hope. Kate's stubbornness, and Chris' romance with Ann, Larry's former fiancee, become catalysts to expose shameful family secrets.

All My Sons has some characteristic Miller flaws. The tone can turn preachy, and the plotting is too tidy. ("Everything decides to happen at the same time," says Kate, but it's not providential; it's Miller's creaky dramaturgy.)

But it's a brave play, taking on nothing less than human responsibility and heroism. The issues are huge, and the characters are richly nuanced. And, as the Arden production proves, Sons is no mere period piece. It remains profound and timely. On opening night, you could hear a pin drop, so enrapt was the audience. There is no higher praise.

Initially, Terrence J. Nolen's direction and the very realistic production design both seemed over-literal. But there's clever method here, as well as confidence in the power of the play to pay off.

Ultimately it's the cast that lifts this Sons to greatness. Tom McCarthy (Joe), Carla Belver (Kate) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Chris) are all splendid actors who exceed their own best work here. It's a thing of beauty to watch them together -- so believable as family, so real in their joy and heartbreak. Peakes in particular crowns several years of excellent performances with this astounding one.

For all these reasons, I'm happy to report that All My Sons is the first must-see show of the Philadelphia season. Miss it at your peril!

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