Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” takes on family dynamics with a father-son relationship laden with guilt and retribution. It shows a family’s unraveling when a father’s secret is met head-on.
Arthur Miller gives the audience such an emotional, gripping look into the hearts of the characters in the drama “All My Sons” that you can forgive the contrived structure of the play. Clunky and dependent on devices to move the action along, such as a letter that reveals the final secret, “All My Sons” was an early Miller work staged on Broadway in 1947. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Authored Play. Two years later Miller would produce his masterpiece: “Death of a Salesman.”
Peppered with period references – a staple in Miller’s works – “All My Sons” takes on family dynamics, in particular, with a father-son relationship laden with guilt and retribution. It shows a family’s unraveling when a father’s secret is met head-on.
This Boston production at the Huntington Theatre is directed by David Esbjornson. Boston stage vet Will Lyman is the conniving father, Joe Keller, owner of a factory that made airplane parts during World War II. Joining Lyman is former American Repertory Theatre regular Karen MacDonald as Kate, Joe’s wife. It’s Kate who fully understands the consequences of the lies and secrets her husband hides about a business deal he brokered during wartime, which threaten to be the family’s demise. Joe’s older son, Larry, is a pilot who has been missing in action for three years when the play opens in 1946. Kate refuses to believe he is dead.
Chris, the younger son who has returned from the war, is working in his father’s factory. He intends to propose to Annie, his brother’s former girlfriend, who has returned for a visit. The play begins on the morning after a storm when a tree, planted in Larry’s memory, has blown down.
Lyman is alternately blustering and suave, until he physically changes before our eyes as if the burden of his sins literally weighs him down. MacDonald begins the play in a tormented dream scene in mime, when she comes on the porch of the family’s home and watches the tree cleft by lightning – no less frightening than the reality of her double loss: her son and her faith in her husband.
Lee Aaron Rosen transforms Chris from the dutiful son to the man of action, as he understands his delusions about his father. Diane Davis is fine as the young woman, Annie. Dee Nelson is the busy-body neighbor who speaks the truth.
It may be 60-plus years old, but “All My Sons” has not lost its emotional power for contemporary audiences. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan could no doubt double for World War II. We are as affected as the Kellers by the circumstances of our government’s choices to send young Americans to war, while others stay home to profit from their sacrifices.
ALL MY SONS By Arthur Miller. Directed by David Esbjornson. At the Huntington Theatre Company, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, through Feb. 7. $20-$82.50. 617-266-0800, www.huntingtontheatre.