Sunday, January 04, 2009

All My Sons

"All My Sons" at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, January 3, 2009

Arthur Miller's classic, nearing the end of its limited run and featuring the stunt-casting of Katie Holmes gets the Greek tragedy treatment in this uneven revival.

John Lithgow opens the show literally reading the stage direction from the script with the full cast standing behind him. It's an uninteresting choice of direction that didn't feel particularly fresh or unique, something one might have expected from this third revival on the Rialto. Simon McBurney directs with very broad strokes, aiming for the highest theatricality, but only getting there with some remarkable stagecraft. The storm sequence felt so real, I expected the wind to blow my hair back as rain fell on my cheek. Kudos to Christopher Shutt and Carolyn Downing's sound design. The highly-stylized train sequence was also impressive, but ultimately distracted from the realism with which the rest of the play was performed.

As for the performances, Mr. Lithgow is in his ever-fine form as Joe Keller, the flawed father whose overturned conviction for selling substandard parts to the military during WWII resulting in the deaths of 21 aviators tortures the remaining family and friends who surround him.

Dianne Wiest approaches Wagnerian form as his wife Kate. She doesn't quite get to the "Don't speak...don', don't...speak" theatricality that defined her brilliance in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway, but she gets close as she rails in denial over her missing son Larry, who disappeared during a regular mission during the war and has never been recovered.

Patrick Wilson, playing Larry's older brother Chris seemed a bit too attractive for the role of one overshadowed by a sibling. Mr. Wilson struggles for gravitas and insecurity as a young man trying to move on with life by starting a new life with Anne, his brother's sweetheart. At least he meets the requirement of at least one shirtless scene per show.

As Anne, Ms. Holmes is lovely to look at and does exceed the low standard set by other television and film actors who have trod the boards such as Ashley Judd. She claws to approach the bar set for her by the rest of the cast, but never quite makes it, wavering between the self-conscious and amateurish. Still, her voice seems to have suffered from the strain of 8 shows per week, sounding gravelly and hoarse as she substitutes poor technique for emotional delivery.

It also bothered me that she spent so much time speaking while facing upstage. Note that she was not alone in this type of action. Much of the rest of the cast seemed to have been directed this way as well. (Had the original plan been to have onstage seating like Equus, Xanadu, Spring Awakening, and Inherit The Wind?)

The use of mixed media on the back wall creating ghostly images of the war, the family house profile and a disappearing window to Larry's old room distracted more than it added to Tom Pye's scenic design.

Star watch: Jim Norton (The Seafarer, Port Authority) in the mezzanine near me.

No comments: