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November 17, 2010

Everyman Theatre offers compelling revival of Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons'

The truth, Oscar Wilde told us, is rarely pure and never simple. In Arthur Miller’s first hit play, “All My Sons,” successful businessman Joe Keller tortures the complicated truth about his wartime work and obscures it with a sticky web of self-justification.

Keller, grippingly portrayed by Carl Schurr in Everyman Theatre’s sterling production of this still-searing work from 1947, is supremely confident he can explain how defective aircraft parts left his factory and led to loss of life. Besides, he was officially exonerated.

He has lived his lie so boldly and thoroughly that it doesn’t really occur to him that the truth could ever emerge. Why should it? The war is over; so is the guilt. Everybody did things they shouldn’t have during those dark years, didn’t they?

Set in an unspecified American town, the play has hardly lost its relevance, certainly not in the age of Halliburton and BP, and its ability to touch the senses remains undiminished. Even those who know this work well may find themselves startled anew by how much of a gut-punch this tragedy can still deliver.

Miller keenly understood what brings families together, what drives them apart, and why it all matters. Everyman artistic director Vincent Lancisi Director is very much at home dealing with such familial issues, and his unforced, insightful directorial touch draws from the cast — most of them from the company's own family of resident artists — performances fully alive with nuance.

Schurr’s sureness as an actor enables him to reveal every facet of Keller’s volatile character as the center of gravity keeps shifting beneath him — the actor’s eyes convey as much as any of his lines. Most importantly, Schurr also finds in Keller the ruggedly appealing qualities that help to explain the loyalty of the man’s family, the affection of a neighborhood kid.

As Chris, the son who came back from the war and joined his father’s business, Clinton Brandhagen reveals

admirable scope. His eyes have much to say, too; behind them can be read the gnawing concern that he may be standing, like his father, on sand. And when the elusive truth hits Chris right between those eyes, Brandhagen registers the impact with a terrific intensity that generates an unnerving force onstage.

Deborah Hazlett shines as Keller’s wife, Kate, who accepts her husband as steadfastly as she refuses to accept the likelihood that their other son Larry, missing in action three years earlier, is dead. Hazlett taps deftly into Kate’s strange mix of weariness, superstition and confidence.

Beth Hylton brings a touching vulnerability to the role of Ann, who arrives at the Keller home as a double threat — she was Larry’s girlfriend and now the object of Chris’s affection; her father is still in prison for his part in the scandal over the aviation equipment. Adding to the tension is the appearance of Ann’s brother, George. That character's rapid jump from rage to jovial nostalgia and back again is not the most persuasive behavioral pattern in the play, but Tim Getman puts it across with considerable skill.

The Kellers’ colorful neighbors are vibrantly portrayed by Drew Kopas (Frank), Jjana Valentiner (Lydia), Bruce Randolph Nelsonm (Dr. Bayliss) and Megan Anderson (Sue).

Daniel Ettinger’s set design is richly atmospheric and gently lit by Andrew Griffin. David Burdick’s costumes provide another refined visual layer to the staging, often playing off the teal tones of the Keller home with complementing shades — red, orange, brown — that help to reflect the way that all the lives, even those of the neighbors, are connected to the central moral crisis. Only Joe does not fit neatly into the prevailing color scheme, and, in the final scene, his dark suit sets him starkly apart from the others, portending his isolated fate.

This season, Everyman celebrates its 20th year. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of patrons rank the affecting revival of “All My Sons” among the best efforts of those two decades. The production reminds you why you love theater, reconfirms what an involving and haunting art form it is -- and how a first-rate company can make it doubly so.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:41 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre


a thoughtful and painstaking review, which makes it all the more surprising that Tim Cleff spoiled one of the play's dramatic surprises with a revelation in the first paragraph of the article. Are you not aware, Mr. Smith, that some people have not seen the play before, and would like to wait for the dramatic revelation by Kate in the last act?

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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