“All My Sons” At The Rep: Poetic Justice, For Unjust Times

If your sense of right and wrong has been shattered by any number of disturbing recent events, you can find genuine emotional healing in the smashing new production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, through Jan. 29.

It’s a breakout show for the Rep’s heir-apparent, Seth Gordon, as director of a remarkable cast on the main stage. With this achievement, Mr. Gordon, who also serves as the assistant artistic director, reassures us of a promising future for the most prestigious theater in town, beyond the eventual retirement of longtime Artistic Director Steven Woolf.

The play starts out on a disarming note, in a suburban backyard, on a bucolic autumn afternoon a few years after World War II. It could be Grovers Corners from “Our Town,” or even the Vanderhof-Sycamore clan from “You Can’t Take It With You.” The Keller family is goofy, their neighbors are wacky and peace and prosperity reign again in America.

Sure, the mom (stalwart Margaret Daly) won’t admit that one of her sons has died in a plane crash in the war. But that just makes her seem kind of wacky, too, until we learn that a lot of other pilots also died under mysterious circumstances, all tied to the family’s business. Strangely, by the end, Ms. Daly develops the mom character into a god-like presence: with a sort of all-seeing eye, that’s only mad to mortals.

Arthur Miller slowly alters the whole climate of the play, until a desperate curse darkens the once light-hearted Keller household. After that, the great John Woodson (as Keller patriarch Joe) begins a downward-spiral, gripped by guilt and defensiveness.

Everything the father and mother do seems to seal their fate, in this very quick two-hour-and-fifteen minute stunner. Idealistic surviving son Chris (the terrific Patrick Ball) wants to marry the girl from next door (the excellent Mairin Lee), but false hope for the family’s other son blocks their marriage. Meanwhile, Ann’s family has withered, after a shabby lie from just a few years before.

It’s ultimately very reassuring, showing how quickly the schemes of the foolish can turn against them.

Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

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