Culture & Conversation

Norman Rockwell is Alive and Well

ALL MY SONS was Arthur Miller’s first Broadway hit, and so is an apt choice for students at the National Theatre school who will begin their professional careers this spring. First produced in 1947, two years before Death of a Salesman took America by storm, it won Miller a Pulitzer and a Tony Award for best play and catapulted him to literary fame. All My Sons is now regarded as the precursor, the promise of great things to come. The NTS production, ably directed by a Montrealer Sarah Stanley, allows the promise of both the playwright and his young interpreters to shine.

America in the late forties comes back life through Miller’s youthful pen and this energetic cast. This production begins with a big-band tune, the deafening roar of a fighter plane. An impressive set by Noémie Avidar reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting offers clues as to time and place. We are in the back yard of Joe Keller, an American mid-westerner who has made a fortune through war profiteering.

All My Sons is based on the true story of a man who sold faulty machinery parts to the U.S. military during World War II. It struck a chord in the young playwright Miller, who extracted from it many of the themes that would become his trademarks – the guilt of fathers, conflict between a pragmatic older generation and idealistic youth, the push-and-pull between personal dreams and social responsibility, the pursuit of a success that leads inexorably to destruction.

Like many American families in the forties, the Hellers lost a son in the war. The play opens three years after the tragic event, as their surviving son Chris is about to ask his dead brother’s former sweetheart to marry him. Miller is not exactly subtle with this complex situation. He tends to pin characters’ hearts on their sleeves, having them declare what they feel the moment they feel it in the most explicit terms. No attempt is made in this production to temper this explicitness.

This is the 1940s, the actors almost shout: a simpler time when what you saw was what you got, when words like “good” and “evil” were still part of the lexicon, when the country could be painted in the clean lines of a Rockwell canvas. Lighting (by Sean Poole) shifts to great effect between happy brightness and the haze of memory and dream as the extent of Joe Heller’s guilt emerges. Music, in form of childhood rhymes and of hymns like “The Lord is Good to Me”, reinforces the theme of lost innocence.

Lauryn Allman (Kate Keller) gives an outstanding performance as a mother who has lost a son in the war and loses her mind refusing to accept it. Doug MacAulay (Joe Keller) has a tougher challenge as her husband. As written by Miller, sixty-two-year-old Joe’s transformation is hard to believe; the actor’s youth makes it even harder. James MacLean (Chris Keller) and Pippa Mackie (Anne Deever) are great as passionate young lovers groping for truth in a world riddled with lies.

All My Sons continues at 8 p.m. till Saturday December 13 at the Monument National, 1182 St. Laurent Boulevard. (Box Office: 514 871-2224) tickets: $9.00

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