All My Sons
"All My Sons" opens with a terrible thunderstorm - made more ominous by incorporating the sounds of fighter jets and bombs bursting in air. It's an audiovisual assault by lighting designer Stephanie P. Freed and especially soundman Tony Angelini that initially seems unnecessary, even ill conceived. Because once the storm blows over, little else happens for a long stretch of time as the Keller family lingers in its white-picket-fenced backyard (designed by Mark Johnson), and a cast of neighbors drops by to shoot the breeze.
Ultimately, you realize the opening salvo and the eerie calm that follows is a key message of Arthur Miller's post-World War II play: A bad storm may command our attention, but it's the actions or inactions afterward - the way we handle conflict - that wreak the most havoc. It's not simply mistakes or lying that will be our downfall, in other words, but the extent to which we cover up our failings.
Keegan Theatre and director Susan Marie Rhea have done a mostly masterful job with Miller's masterful play, getting the pacing just right so that its figurative bombs land with as much startling impact as any real bomb ever could.
Kevin Adams is superb as patriarch Joe Keller, a man the whole neighborhood in this quaint, unnamed Northeastern town reveres and fears in equal measure. Keller has had great success with his military-supplying manufacturing business, but his is not an untarnished record - and he and especially his wife, the nagging, wise Kate Heller (Sheri S. Herren), are also plagued by the war death of their eldest boy. Keller's past comes back to haunt him once his youngest son and business successor Chris, played with endless charm but also complex emotional range by Kevin Hasser, announces plans to marry Ann Deever (a winsome Brianna Letourneau), who was the neighbor girl growing up. Ann's creepy, frazzled brother George (played to the hilt by Bradley Foster Smith) also pays a visit to the Keller backyard. Slowly, surely the painful history between the Keller and Deever families comes to a head - and the revelations surprise the younger generation as much as they do the audience, which of course only adds to the drama.
There are minor flaws here and there with Keegan's production, such as Erin Nugent's uneven costumes, which aren't always as effective in capturing the post-war period as they are in Chris's sharp getup throughout, or in Ann's demure dresses. But the flaws all come down to style, not substance. Fortunately, the substance on offer is enough to sustain your thoughts for days afterward.
"All My Sons." Four and a half stars. To Dec. 1 at Church Street Theater. $35. 703-892-0202 or www.keegantheatre.com for tickets.