"Behind every great fortune, there is a crime," claimed French literary giant Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). Award-winning American playwright Arthur Miller may well have had that aphorism in mind when he wrote All My Sons (1947).
The terrible (unconfessed) crime at the core of the current Flying Machine Theatre Company production of this powerful domestic drama, playing Thursday-Sunday through June 27th in the PSI Theatre at the Durham Arts Council in downtown Durham, NC, is a crime of greed and betrayal. At the height of World War II, his detractors claim, airplane-parts manufacturer Joe Keller (John Honeycutt) ordered his business partner to doctor up some cracked cylinder heads, so that they would pass inspection.
When the defective parts failed, 21 P-40 pilots died. Keller and his partner were arrested; but Keller escaped prison three years ago, his detractors claim, by shifting all the blame to his partner, who is still incarcerated, his business and his home and wife gone and his children estranged, when the curtain rises for All My Sons.
While his partner and former friend sweats out the final months of his sentence in a federal penitentiary in the Midwest, back in New York Joe Keller and his wife, Kate (Mary Rowland), live the life of Riley. Keller's manufacturing operation prospers; his family still mourns Larry, the U.S. Army pilot lost in China during the war; but otherwise the Kellers go on as if nothing has happened.
Is there a big ugly skeleton in the Keller family closet? No one knows for sure until the Kellers' surviving son, Chris (Brian Berger), falls in love with Ann Deever (Katie Poirier), his childhood friend, his brother Larry's former girlfriend, and the daughter of his former partner. When Chris brings Ann back to New York to ask her to marry him, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that may shatter his family — and his own peace of mind — forever.
Brian Berger is good as Chris, a tall and lanky battle-hardened former soldier who is now his father's only son and heir to the highly profitable Keller business enterprise; and Katie Poirier gives a passionate performance as Ann, who loves Chris dearly and blames her father for all those pilots' deaths. Indeed, she has completely cut her dad out of her life.
John Honeycutt fumbles some of his lines and somehow lacks the gravitas to make his portrait of outwardly jovial, but inwardly emotionally fragile, Joe Keller completely convincing. Mary Rowland is much better as Joe Keller's high-strung wife, Kate, driven slowly but unmistakably mad by the loss of her son Larry and the festering knowledge that all her family's current prosperity is the result of their former friend's misfortune.
T.J. Morris frequently slurs his lines unintelligibly as Keller neighbor Dr. Jim Bayliss; and Betsy Walters plays Bayliss' former nurse and jealous wife, Sue, a bit flatly. David Davis plays another Keller neighbor, amateur astrologer Frank Lubey, with a little more personality; and Janessa Baldina is cute, but a bit unpolished, as Lubey's wife, Lydia.
Joe Hyde, who plays Ann Deever's prickly attorney-brother George, arrives on the scene late and in a state of righteous indignation, and pretty much sticks with that emotion. But eight-year-old Cooper Agar shows promise as Bert, a young Keller neighbor for whom Joe pretends to be a policeman with a jail in his cellar.
For this intense domestic drama to hit on all cylinders, the show requires a seasoned cast not only capable of learning their lines and hitting their marks, but also able to inject their characterizations with hints of words unspoken, emotions unexpressed, guilt and fear that gnaws at the heart from the inside.
Flying Machine co-founder and artistic director Julian "J" Chachula, Jr. does his best with the cast assembled, but it is not always the best cast for the emotional demands this classic of contemporary drama.
Set designer Matt Santelli has done a grand job of recreating the back porch, arbor, and backyard of the Keller home; the commendable work of lighting designer Robert Stromberg helps heighten the show's dramatic intensity; and costume designer Mary Rowland, Katie Poirier, Vicki Olson, and others have assembled a convincing wardrobe of 1940s fashions for this wrenching drama.
Second Opinion: June 16th Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods: http://indyweek.com/durham/current/woods.html and June 18th News & Observer review by Orla Swift: http://www.triangle.com/calendar/theaterreview/story/1346590p-7469323c.html.
Flying Machine Theatre Company presents All My Sons Friday-Saturday, June 18-19 and 24-26, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 20 and 27, at 7 p.m. in the PSI Theatre at the Durham Arts Council, 120 Morris St., Durham, North Carolina. $12 ($5 students with valid ID and $9 seniors), except June 24: (pay what you can). 919/594-1140, firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.etix.com/ticket/online/performanceSearch.jsp?performance_id=160338. Note: June 19 ticket buyers are invited to share dinner and drinks with the cast and crew (location TBA). Flying Machine Theatre Company: http://www.flyingmachine.dreamhost.com/productions/ams.html. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=1455. Internet Movie Database (1948 Film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040087/.