Even before the lights come up it’s obvious this is a magnificently audacious production. In 50 years I’ve never seen such a lavish set on a Woodstock stage. So for a moment I wonder if — here in this intimate Byrdcliffe Theater — the opulent naturalism of a 1946 Ohio backyard struck by gale, isn’t over the top. Then two lightning-fast hours later, while recovering from a state of shock, I realize set, cast, and director are actually a perfect match.
I’ve been clandestinely ushered into a rehearsal a full week ahead of opening night to already find astonishingly realized performances. And they had better be. For no theater company survives which mounts a tragedy during the most depressing July anyone can recall, unless their play is an exact mirror of its historical moment. This one is. And so by experiencing it we at last fully understand ourselves, our nation, our world, and our fate.
Admittedly, it’s highly peculiar that All My Sons which finally brought Arthur Miller world acclaim 70 years ago, should prove a perfect storm exposing the world’s most infamous business man today. Then again, Joe Keller, the father in All My Sons (a fully convincing John Little) is indeed a most notorious American businessman. However, America — having saved the world from Hitler — seemed a noble nation. So when the instantly sympathetic Keller claims to have done no wrong we tend to believe him. Sure, it was the other guy who made the rash mistake which brought on the disaster and the real culprit is behind bars.
Joe Keller and his wife, Kate, (an extraordinary Leigh Strimbeck) have proudly raised two sons both of whom are war heroes. The younger, Chris, (a perfectly cast Ryan Feyk) commanded a platoon of men who “killed themselves to save each other.” But such nobility is unknown to civilian life and Chris is emasculated by a post-war America even if — as his father’s new partner — he becomes rich. So Chris manages to look the other way. While Larry, his older brother who went missing in action three years earlier, serves as the phantom engine of the play. His enigma casts a veil obscuring a wrecked family from itself while providing an illusion of unity, until a final day of reckoning dawns for the Kellers — the very day rendered before us.
Under the direction of Shauna Kanter Voice Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s first and most merciless masterpiece somehow manages to foreshadow our own day of reckoning. This accomplishment becomes less surprising however, once Kanter admits to her personal belief that All My Sons is actually more pertinent and powerful today than when it took Broadway by storm in 1947. The reason being, of course, that rampant industrial corruption was at that time relatively rare, whereas most of America — and the world — fully realizes that big business is thriving today in the US of A within a total moral vacuum, created at the top, and consciously passed down as low as it might go with a wink and a nod.
And so this slowly unraveling industrial cover-up, in which great wealth is gained by a certain family in a prolonged war, during which they also lose their oldest son — well, it all hits a nerve. Actually, it hits several nerves I won’t divulge here except to say: there came for me that one devastating moment, when having lost myself in this gripping drama from another time, I suddenly realized that All My Sons was completely of this time, and that we as a nation, in fact, are the Keller family. For most of us look the other way as the great experiment of America suffocates beyond resuscitation. While in this stranger than fiction age of presidential Tweets replacing “The President speaks” no crime or tragedy can ever touch the shameless one, for it’s always the fault of “the other guy.” And though Joe Keller weeps aloud to his surviving son, “I did it for you!” because business must be protected above all else, since money — in war and in peace — is what matters most. Indeed, because this is the creed most fathers attempt to impart to all their children, particularly their sons, without actually putting into words. Yet when this instruction actually is put into words and those words become deeds then we awaken to completely mercenary society, whereupon this production of All My Sons becomes not only a mirror we must look into, but a laser to melt our hearts — and let us pray — forge them anew.
Don’t miss it.
The (air-conditioned) Byrdcliffe Theater is at 380 Upper Byrdcliffe Rd, Woodstock.
The Voice Theatre production of All My Sons runs July 12-29, Thursday-Saturday 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. General Admission is $25, students and seniors are $20. For reservations, call 1-800-838-3006. For online tickets, see voicetheatre.brownpapertickets.com. For more information, call 845-679-0154 or see www.voicetheatre.org.