The title of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” comes from the play’s penultimate page, when Joe Keller (Jeff McCarthy) recognizes a truth about himself that he has, heretofore, refused to see. McCarthy’s delivery of those three cathartic words is a pitch-perfect summation of the entire play.
Indeed, Barrington Stage Company’s production is one of enormous feeling throughout, with director Julianne Boyd’s cast brilliantly negotiating the moments of hearty laughter, romantic passion, fury and profound grief.
Scene: “The backyard of the Keller home in the outskirts of an American town. August 1947,” a place, as Miller suggests in his essay “Tragedy and the Common Man,” that is as ripe for tragedy as the courts of Shakespeare’s kings. This guy’s name is Joe, the average Joe, trying to give his family the American Dream, even if it means discarding his moral compass.
‘All My Sons’
WHERE: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Through Aug. 4
HOW MUCH: $60-$15
MORE INFO: 413-236-8888, barringtonstageco.org
As the owner of a factory making airplane engines for the war effort, he puts money before people when something goes wrong on the assembly line. Blaming his partner for decisions that led to the deaths of 21 pilots, he continues the business with his son Chris (Josh Clayton).
The family faces another challenge: the wartime disappearance of older son Larry. Joe’s wife, Kate (Lizbeth Mackay), is not convinced, however, that Larry is dead, and her preoccupation with his return frustrates the rest of the family.
When Larry’s former fiancée, Ann (Rebecca Brooksher), comes to visit Chris, Kate senses that the two are in love — a disturbing idea. Ann’s brother, George (Matthew Carlson), also visits, bringing ominous news from their father — the jailed partner — that finally leads to the disintegration of the Keller family.
This is a superbly crafted play, with a plot spooled out at a credible pace; a Greek chorus of neighbors (Andrew Gillman, Emily Kunkel, Andy Nogasky, Peter Reardon and Pilar Witherspoon, each adding dimension to single-purpose supporting characters); and poetic language.
The set by David M. Barber is richly detailed; Jennifer Moeller’s 1940s costumes flatter everyone; and Scott Pinkney’s lighting aptly evokes the changes over the course of a day.
Carlson’s George is a tornado, and the fisticuffs between him and Chris take your breath away. But Carlson also reveals George’s vulnerability and sadness that life has turned out the way it has.
Brooksher’s reactions are spot-on, but watch particularly her upstage work after Ann learns the truth about Joe: She registers Ann’s horror without a word. McCarthy grew on me as the play went on. I initially wanted, perhaps, a rougher-looking actor, someone who had evidently worked in the factory and then become boss. But McCarthy believably contrasts the hail-fellow-well-met attitude with the blustery and bewildered man with a terrible secret.
Mackay’s Kate is a dead woman walking. Her boy is gone, and thus her heart. She grabs at astrology for answers. She can’t sleep, but she somehow performs her familial functions. Mackay makes these subtle emotional transitions seamless, with an inflection, a look, a wave of the hand.
Finally, Clayton. I know this play inside and out, but his line readings are revelatory. He’s a wondrously physical actor, too, alone, tenderly interacting with Brooksher, or grappling with McCarthy.
Kudos to Boyd for a production I will never forget.