Review of All My Sons, starring Annette Bening & Tracy Letts, on Broadway

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    Date:
    April 23, 2019
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    By an extraordinary coincidence, Roundabout Theatre Company's initially warm, eventually devastating production of All My Sons has opened at Broadway's American Airlines Theatre a night before a separate new revival opens at London's Old Vic. And interestingly, too, both productions are headlined by actors who've made their names with Oscar credentials for their film work: two-times winner Sally Field in London and four-times nominee Annette Bening on Broadway.

    Arthur Miller's portrait of a family in crisis won two Tonys in its original 1947 run -- for its playwright (in the first of a now long-retired category presented to writers of plays as well as musicals that Miller would also win again two years later for Death of a Salesman) and for its director Elia Kazan. This production marks its third Broadway revival since then -- all of them presented in the last 30 years -- attesting to this play's now classic status.

    Classics have a way of speaking to every generation anew, and this shattering play about the guilt of seeking to avoid moral responsibility is forever timely. There's tenderness as well as tension in the way that its principal characters warily tread around each other, and the unspoken secrets whose exposure would tear them apart. They have already led to the imprisonment of their unseen former neighbour Steve Deever, who used to work for Joe Keller in the manufacturing business he ran that made parts for military airplanes, but who allowed faulty goods to be supplied to them that led to the deaths of 21 pilots. Joe and Kate's son Larry was also a pilot and has disappeared: Kate still clings to the hope that he will return one day, but after three years, that prospect is dimming.

    Now comes a night and day of reckoning, on which their other son Chris invites Larry's girlfriend Ann -- who is the daughter of their former neighbour -- to stay, with the intention of asking to marry her. And Ann's brother George has just visited his estranged father in prison, and returns to collect his sister burning with anger and resentment.

    To say more would be a spoiler, but suffice to say that director Jack O'Brien expertly modulates the growing tensions of a plot that unfolds with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. It is also (over)loaded with a lot of symbolism, as a tree planted in the missing son's honour is struck by lightning and falls.

    A thrilling cast rise to the challenge of making this entirely believable, fraught and eventually scorching. As matriarch Kate, Annette Bening is devastating as well as devastated: a woman clinging to hope, despite knowing in her heart that it is hopeless. And Tracy Letts -- who is also a playwright who wrote the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County -- is equally superb as a man consumed by his secrets.

    They are magnificently supported by rising stars Benjamin Walker as their son Chris and Francesca Carpanini as Ann whom he wishes to marry. Both are coincidentally graduates of Julliard, New York's premiere drama school.

    This is a play I never tire of seeing -- and plan to see again in London, too. Even knowing the outcome, it's a play that rivets, challenges and disturbs.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    "Plays with a large moral vision are so last century. Our taste now is for the miniature and metaphoric — works too exquisite to live outside the living room. Or maybe our capacity for shame has shrunk. But in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, originally produced in 1947, domesticity is just a backdrop. The drama takes place outdoors, amid trees and sky in an Ohio backyard soon after World War II. Its anger and ambition are likewise elemental. Too bad, then, that the Roundabout Theater Company revival that opened on Monday at the American Airlines Theater reaches the play’s level only intermittently, like a poorly tuned radio. Jack O’Brien’s literal-minded production, starring Tracy Letts and Annette Bening, does not make a resonant case for the drama today."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "There is a real and precious thing at the center of All My Sons, the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s 1947 tragedyIt is the trio of Tracy Letts, Annette Bening and Benjamin Walker, playing members of the doomed Keller family."
    Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

    "After all the Donald Trump references in recent plays, it’s refreshing to see an actor and director go back to another administration for their hit job. In the new revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, which opened Monday at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre, Tracy Letts delivers a Dick Cheney who’s every bit as terrifying as Christian Bale’s in “Vice” — but without the need of all those prosthetics."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    ""Business!" In and of itself, it's a fairly innocuous word. But as spat out in disgust by one of the main characters in Arthur Miller's 1947 drama All My Sons, it becomes a harsh epithet representing the worst aspects of the American Dream. This current era of income inequality and tax cuts for the wealthy makes the moment register now more than ever. So does every other element of the play in this superb revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company. One of the dramatic highlights of the Broadway season, the production features outstanding performances from a stellar cast headed by Annette Benning, Tracy Letts and Benjamin Walker, with impeccable direction by Jack O'Brien."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    "Don’t be fooled by the placid backyard setting, neighborly small talk and father-son joviality at the start of the Roundabout Theatre Company's blistering revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons starring Annette Bening and Tracy Letts. There are plenty of secrets, resentments and disillusionments ahead, poised to rip this sunny Middle Americana facade to shreds."
    Frank Rizzo for Variety