As in Death of a Salesman, his 1949 Pulitzer Prize winner (and my personal favorite), Arthur Miller’s All My Sons looks at an American family in crisis and weaves their story into a broader vision of a morally bankrupt culture.
Dated in tone and language, its focus on the prevalence of greed in our society and the willingness of individuals to sacrifice the greater good for personal gain has kept this work searingly relevant.
Miller’s debuting drama — in 1947 New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson called him “a genuine new talent” — is now revived at Pasadena’s A Noise Within where, under Geoff Elliot’s direction, only a portion of its power is on display.
The story revolves around Joe Keller (Elliott), a family man who made money in the armaments business during World War II. One of his sons, a U.S. Air Force pilot, died in the war — a loss his mother, Joe’s wife, Kate (Deborah Strang), refuses to accept.
Their other son, Chris (Rafael Goldstein), has returned from service sound in body if not entirely in mind, and now wants to marry Larry’s former fiancée, Ann (Maegan McConnell), with whom he’s long been in love.
The family crisis this precipitates is eclipsed by the arrival of Ann’s brother George (Aaron Blakely) and his revelation of Joe’s complicity in a terrible crime: selling faulty aircraft parts to the military in wartime. Almost as perfidious is Joe’s willingness to let his business partner, George and Ann‘s father, shoulder the blame and rot in jail, even as he himself, kicking back in suburbia, rationalizes that the end — in his mind the well-being of his family — has justified these immoral acts.
Some of the show’s weaknesses can be sourced to the play itself, which lumbers along in the first half as Miller sets the stage for the grand moral conflagrations to come. Its first gripping moments come with Blakely’s entrance, and what evolves into a splendid torchlike depiction of the outraged George, only just made cognizant of the cruel injustice perpetrated on his father.
The other performances worth crediting are that of Goldstein, who resists facile melodrama and renders Chris with quiet integrity, and the reliably accomplished Strang, as a controlling, half-mad matriarch.
The weakest link is Elliott’s interpretation of Joe. Described in the script as “a man’s man,” Joe’s collapse in the eyes of his son — and in his own as well — is the heart of the tragedy. But Elliott plays the character as edgy and weak and unlikable from the start, so there’s not far to go when his sins are revealed. It’s a well-crafted but insular performance and it belongs in another play.
A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; through Nov. 29. (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org