IN THE centenary of Arthur Miller’s birth, Talawa Theatre Company’s artistic director Michael Buffong has revived their 2013 production of All My Sons in a co-production with the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich.
The play, Miller’s first success, was a sensation when it opened on Broadway in 1947 because it was based on a true story about a company that sold defective war plane cylinders to the US Air Force. Buffong’s direction is straightforward and unfussy, well-cast and staged in the front yard of a wooden house, set in verdant undergrowth (design Ellen Cairns).
Joe Keller, as portrayed by Ray Shell, is a smooth family patriarch, walking the line between confidence and bluster. There is no real doubt that he sold the cracked cylinders, and evidence piles up throughout the play. The person who suffers most from Joe’s actions is his frail wife Kate (Doña Kroll) who is complicitin covering up his guilt. She is tortured by an all-consuming fear that her deceased son Larry was killed in a plane fitted with one of Joe’s cylinders.
Another victim is Joe’s former business partner, Steve Deever, now imprisoned and a shadow of his former self, having taken the fall for the crime. The unseen Steve achieves some sort of revenge through his children. His lonely daughter Annie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) arrives to stay with the Kellers, ostensibly to marry Larry’s brother Chris (Leemore Marrett Jr). However, she was once Larry’s sweetheart and her motivations for agreeing to marry Chris are suspect.
Chris is a true believer in his father’s innocence. There are similarities with JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, written only two years earlier, in that Miller is criticising capitalist society through the misdeeds of a family. The avenger here is Annie’s angry brother George (Ashley Gerlach) who destroys Chris’ faith and ultimately forcesJoe to face up to his wartime
Like the RSC’s recent Julius Caesar, this is an all-black company. It is a positive sign for the performing arts world that there is a greater diversity on stage and there’s a wider range of actors for classic roles.