Arthur Miller, who is among the great 20th-century playwrights, never fails to impress. And when a theatre company knows how to handle his material – as the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre clearly does – a Miller play can become a stellar production.
Miller’s All My Sons, like most of his plays, is a domestic tragedy set in an American town. It takes place in the backyard of the Keller home not long after World War II, the drama unfolding within just a couple of days, and follows spouses Joe and Kate, their adult son Chris, and his significant other Ann Deever as they cope with, confront, and move past a family loss.
Director Joe DePauw led a wonderful ensemble of actors and designers on Saturday night; the performance was touching and dramatic, and the feel of this show perfect for the Barn. Jennifer Kingry's lighting design added to the mood of the piece, especially when night fell during the second act, using a blend of nighttime gobos and colors that provided a beautiful canvas for the emotions. Overall, the illumination was perhaps a bit too bright throughout – an intimate space such as this doesn't need a ton of lighting – but designing in the round is challenging, and Kingry definitely delivered.
The mother of the Keller family who lives in a state of denial, Kate has a big emotional journey from start to finish, and Carol Neuleib’s thoughtful command of the stage was powerful. This role is such a great one, and Neuleib made playing Kate look enjoyable and easy – especially in the end, when the drama comes to its tragic close and the depth of her characterization was evident. I will admit that as much as I like Arthur Miller, his writing is a little dated, and at times even sexist. Neuleib, however, along with other female actors in this production, gave such commanding and engaging performances that made it easier to handle some of the uncomfortable dialogue.
Joe Keller, a manufacturer of airplane equipment during the war who is always moving and thinking, is another demanding character, and James Driscoll (who played Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at Richmond Hill) certainly has a fine understanding of what Arthur Miller is all about. Driscoll interacted well with his co-stars and was always very committed to his role – and in a space like this, you can’t hide. Because the other actors were so grounded, however, and All My Sons is so committed to realism, some of Driscoll’s movements and character choices felt a little overdone. There was also a costume decision near the finale that greatly took me out of the action. In a scene that took place at night, Driscoll was costumed in a night robe, but one that did not seem to fit him and was put on over a full suit. The wardrobe choices were otherwise beautiful and truly fit well together, but this one stuck out and made the play’s ending – which was incredibly performed – land just a little less.
Justin Raver, who plays the young WWII veteran Chris, was also recently in Death of a Salesman, and his control and chemistry with others was commendable, especially in his commanding work toward the climax. There was a specific monologue of Raver’s at the end of Act I that was part stellar writing, but also stellar delivery, providing rhetorical context about war and some of the processing of this tragedy that Miller's characters are all dealing with.
Raver also had some really nice scenes with Leslie Day, who played Ann Deever. Here’s where a bulk of All My Sons' action comes from: Ann Deever loved the presumably deceased Larry Keller – he was reported missing in action during the war – and is finally starting to move on… but is now with Chris, the brother of her former partner and the son of parents still dealing with Larry's absence. (This makes for a really great plot, and, as you can imagine, a whole lot of drama.) Day smartly portrayed her character as lively and cheerful – a nice contrast to the Kellers – yet we still saw her struggle underneath. Meanwhile, Ann's brother George appears only in the second act as the bearer of bad news and the one who unleashes a tragic truth, and Kevin Keck played this powerful role well, becoming an integral part of the story’s unfolding.
Miller's ensemble also features two couples – family friends and neighbors – that serve as anchors to the Kellers. These are people who witnessed the play's central tragedy and are there to support and provide input to the situations, and John Simosky and Elizabeth Shaffer (as Frank and Lydia Lubey) and David Beeson and Dana Skiles (as Dr. Jim and Sue Bayliss) listened intently and gave sincere performances. The final figure to grace the stage is Bert, a neighborhood kid who appears a couple moments in the play, and Jake Turner worked wonderfully alongside his fellow actors. This character provided a bit of foreshadowing, and existed as another layer in the father-son conflict and looming family tragedy.
Richmond Hill's production of this classic American tragedy was impressive, and DePauw's actors performed with complexity and focus. The story is not an easy one to tell. But an Arthur Miller play is never one to miss, and it's definitely worth a trip to Richmond Hill's unique space to witness a great story and see how this drama unfolds.
All My Sons runs at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (600 Robinson Drive, Geneseo IL) through November 20, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)944-2244 and visiting RHPlayers.com.