It begins, appropriately enough, with the sound of a storm. For the Keller family, the next day’s cloudless sky is a false omen. A bigger storm is on the way.
In Swine Palace’s production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” which runs through Feb. 15 at LSU’s Shaver Theatre, tension gets its hooks into the audience almost as soon as the lights come on, and it never lets go. There are more reasons that this play was the first commercial success of Miller’s career, but it’s as good as any.
Under Jane Page’s direction and with an able cast, “All My Sons” drags its audience toward a family’s much-delayed reckoning with its past. Sixty-eight years after it opened on Broadway, it also reminds us of how easy it is to rationalize our most venal behavior.
Terry Layman plays Joe Keller, who runs a company that makes all sorts of things, but had a defense contract to manufacture airplane engine parts during World War II. When it was discovered that the company covered up the shipment of defective pistons that caused crashes that killed 21 American pilots, he was exonerated but his partner and neighbor, Steve Deever, was sent to prison. The biggest problem in his prosperous postwar world is the refusal of his wife, Kate (played by Kate Skinner), to accept that their oldest son, Larry, died in the war three years earlier. He was declared missing in action, and Kate cannot let go of the certainty that he will someday walk back into their lives.
That would be something the family could manage if their other son, Chris (Justin Sorvillo), hadn’t fallen in love with his brother’s girlfriend, Ann Deever (played by Amanda Clark), the daughter of the disgraced partner.
She’s ready to marry Chris, and she is utterly convinced of her father’s guilt. Only Kate’s unreasoning objection — even insisting that Ann, too, was holding out hope for Larry’s return — seems to stand in the way. Other than a neighbor and amateur astrologer, Frank Lubey (Joe Morris), who encourages her belief, all have accepted the finality of their wartime tragedies.
But looks deceive. Ann’s brother, George (Tim Moriarty), has unexpectedly called and let her know he is flying in to meet with her following a prison visit with their dad. The suddenness and urgency of his visit sets everyone on edge.
That sets in motion the final two acts that run the gamut from tense to intense. Everyone except Chris, it seems, knows more than they’re letting on.
Layman gives Joe Keller an avuncular persona that only grudgingly lets go of its kindly nature as the pressure builds. Skinner, even in lighter moments, never quits projecting the feeling of a woman walking a tightrope, fearing the potential misstep that will cause her world to shatter. Sorvillo and Clark are credible as their emotions waver from happy expectation to fear of overcoming Kate’s resistance to confusion about what really happened in the past.
Moriarty brings an edgy intensity to a role that needs it, since he is the spark that touches off the play’s explosive revelations.
The play runs slightly over two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.