All My Sons | The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

All My Sons will put a knot in your stomach and never untangle it.

Some shows stay with you—the actors return to the stage, bow before an appreciative audience, and disappear behind the curtains once again, yet the production doesn’t feel quite over. Arthur Miller’s powerful play All My Sons falls into this category of shows that are difficult to shake off because it’s gut-wrenching from the get-go.

The entirety of the show unfolds on the simple, yet picturesque backyard patio of the Keller family home, and a small, fallen tree propels our characters to touch on the first conflict that permeates the play. The tree was planted after Joe (John Woodson) and Kate (Margaret Daly) Keller’s son Larry’s plane disappeared during World War II. Although the tree symbolized the loss of the couple’s son, the audience quickly learns that Kate will under no circumstances accept that fact that Larry isn’t ever coming back home. To her, the likelihood that he has died is simply an impossibility.

From the very beginning, it’s evident that there is quite a bit of backstory that the audience doesn’t know, and it’s an extremely unsettling feeling. The overarching conflict of this show builds like the flame of a gas stove—it’s a slow burn of secrecy initially, but by the end, the intensity is burning at full blast.

Tensions rise when the couple’s other son, Chris (Patrick Ball), invites Ann Deever (Mairin Lee) to the Keller home. Ann had grown up next door, and Chris aims to marry her. Trouble is, their engagement wouldn’t exactly be well-received by either of their families (particularly by Kate because Ann was Larry’s girl, and—again—as far as Kate is concerned, Larry is alive). But the bigger issue is the skeleton in the closest of both the Keller and Deever family. You see, Joe has a manufacturing plant that put out a round of bad parts during the war, thus causing preventable fatalities on the battlefront. Joe and Ann’s father had worked together at the plant, and although both men were tried for the crime, Joe’s name was eventually cleared, while Ann’s father remains in prison. But is placing blame truly justified by a guilty verdict? Not according to Miller, who artistically weaved the heavy theme of honesty throughout the piece.

As I alluded to above, there are no significant scene changes in this play in terms of the physical set design. The lights won’t dim often and when they do, they always rise on the same patio that is peaceful in appearance only. This distraction-free environment really helps the crowd focus on the dialogue, which is, of course, exceptional. The entire cast is commendable, but Woodson and Ball steal the show. (I must also note that I was immensely grateful for the much-needed comic relief adorable Ana Mc Alister supplied as Bert.)

In the words of this show’s director, Seth Gordon, “Miller spent his life asking Americans to examine their most closely held assumptions about life, which is what makes his plays so vibrant and provocative, and why they are classics—relevant now and at any time in history.” All My Sons will put a knot in your stomach and never untangle it. By show’s end, it will only feel a whole lot heavier. Start your year off right by snagging tickets to this striking production. | Megan Washausen

Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

All My Sons runs through January 29. For ticket information visit www.repstl.org.

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