Upon the uncertain arrival of their deceased son’s sweetheart, everything that has happened to the Keller family seems to be coming back all at once. The year is 1947, and we, the audience, are dropped into the backyard of Joe and Kate Keller’s family home. Since losing their eldest son Larry in the war, the Kellers and their remaining son, Chris, all have found their individual ways of coping with the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. Having found closure, Chris and Ann Deever, the once-sweetheart of Chris’s brother, both find in each other an opportunity to start fresh and build a life that is their own. From this comes a great heartbreak within Kate, who still refuses to give up the hope of her son’s return. Overshadowing these, however, is the reemergence of Joe Keller’s old secrets, and a new stirring of bad blood among Joe Keller and the family of Steve Deever, old neighbor and once-business partner who is now incarcerated for a crime that is still denied.
From the Old Vic in London, National Theatre Live presented an absolutely captivating production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” and despite the medium of live broadcast, the gripping performances and the quality coverage allowed for the entering-in of a truly epic yet intimate experience in classic theatre. Miller’s writing to this day stands as strong and compelling content that not only sparks the imagination of an audience, but introduces challenging themes and ideas that often act as convictions that remain ever-present.
Having seen “All My Sons” a time before this at a college level, I truly enjoyed comparing my two viewing experiences, and ultimately stumbling upon some new realizations. For example, a great theme that is touched upon is the notion that when one’s light of honesty goes out, they live in the darkness. From NT Live, there was a noticeably greater hopelessness in the atmosphere that was put forth, and the consequences of deep-seated dishonesty seemed to be made more resonant with the audience members. Entering into this play can be quite challenging to watch, for it’s not only pulsed with family drama and tragedy, but also a close look at how selfishness can lead to a chaos that tears family apart.
Two elements in this production that felt almost mis-matched in my mind were the contrasting tones from the characters of Chris and Kate Keller. While both actors performed their parts with great competence, the moods of the deliveries felt almost too distinct as Chris Keller delivered lines that were relatable and natural, while Kate Keller’s delivery held a wistful melancholy that often brought the peripheral activity to a thoughtful stop.
I frankly did not care for the pre-show short film that explored the production and cast perspectives on Arthur Miller’s work. One can very easily enter into this play without a production note that tries to persuade audiences that the content and themes are comparable with our economic climate today. A great work of art such as this can often tempt those involved to feel as though “this story needs to be told, now more than ever,” but a work’s timeless quality is cheapened when a seemingly self-righteous view of current events is present.
With a paced beginning up until a truly-climactic ending like a contemporary Shakespearean Tragedy, NT Live’s “All My Sons” had me on the edge of my seat, entranced by the scope and intimacy of this show. I left the Michigan Theatre with adrenaline pumping through my veins, anticipating the next show from National Theatre Live that I hope to one day experience.