Twenty one men.
Their fighter planes fallen from the skies during World War Two. Not shot down. Sabotaged. From their own side. Faulty parts deliberately shipped and installed.
Two men are accused. One is exonerated. One is sent to jail.
So is the context for this slow burn drama that culminates in a devastating third act as the revelations pile up to reveal unpalatable truths and the importance of taking responsibility.
What I loved about the writing here is that Arthur Miller has put characters that are unshakeable in their core beliefs into conflict:
Kate Keller (Brittany Morel) is unswayed in her absolute certainly that her son Larry is still alive even though he never returned from the war.
Her husband Joe Keller (Andrew Creer) is resolute that he did nothing wrong and was fairly exonerated.
Their other son, Chris Keller (Bevan Pfeiffer) believes in his father's innocence; and they both know that Larry can be none other than dead despite Kate's desperation.
Anne Deever (Stephanie Panozzo), the daughter of Steve Deever who still languishes in jail, is convinced of her father’s guilt.
Her brother George Deever (Hoa Xuande) arrives at the Keller home implacable in his hatred of Joe’s alleged deception that has ruined his father.
To complicate matters, Anne used to be Larry’s girl but now Chris wants to ask for her hand in marriage.
That is a powder keg of conflicting beliefs just waiting to ignite. It does so as the mystery of what happened at the wartime factory is slowly revealed and the ripples tear these two families and their close neighbours asunder.
Brittany Morel is simply superb as Kate. The ferocity of Kate’s conviction that Larry is still alive results in a woman who is barely in control and Morel plays this with great skill. From the right hand she splays against her thigh to conceal its shaking; to the wide-eyed expressions as the emotion brims every time someone even remotely challenges that belief; to the forceful restating of Larry being alive; it is a compelling performance. That this seemingly anguished and deluded woman turns into something far more potent in the third act is remarkable and Morel’s transformation is riveting, at one point even launching herself at Creer who must be twice her size.
Andrew Creer is indeed an imposing physical presence but his Joe is part magnanimous, part prone to flights of anger and ultimately the façade crumbles as the revelations pile up. It is fascinating to watch the reverse arc – a man seemingly so strong disintegrates while his wife mired in self-denial becomes the rock of the family. Creer handles that trajectory well.
Bevan Pfeiffer’s Chris is also a complex character, almost sweet and naïve in his courting of Anne but quick to anger when events conspire to keep them apart. Pfeiffer ratchets up the outrage as the play builds to its tragic conclusion and his confrontations with Joe are heartrending. His monologue about his duty during the war and his reaction on returning home was a highlight.
Stephanie Panozzo’s Anne plays a pivotal part as the ultimate bearer of the truth but before that dagger I was never quite sure of the character’s motivations. This was intriguing as again it is a complex character and Panozzo gives ‘Annie’ a real strength, determined never to be left alone again no matter what the cost.
Hoa Xuande is the impending threat as George and his arrival illuminates the story from a very different perspective to that of Joe’s. His acquiescence in the face of Joe’s denial felt a little convenient though it was dressed in the importance of the neighbourhood and community which is a featured component of the story. His reversion to malevolence towards the Keller’s is nicely done with Morel’s Kate unintentionally providing the critical link. From then on the play races towards a frantic conclusion that played on high emotion that was affecting and visceral.
Benjamin Kindon, Elle Harris, Dacre Montgomery, and Harriet Gordon-Anderson play neighbours who are entwined in the Keller’s misfortunes and all have important moments. Kindon’s Jim Bayliss delivers a strong monologue in the second half as he sits with Kate; Gordon-Anderson, a beautiful piece of understated acting as she greets George and the subtext of missed opportunities and what might have been shines through; while Harris is perfectly catty as the neighbour who needles Anne about Joe. Montgomery comes across as perhaps the only decent man while also doubling as Bert, a child from the neighbourhood.
The intimacy of The Roundhouse Theatre was perfect for the high emotion on display and I felt right there in the backyard of the family home with its greenery and fallen tree. There were a couple of times though that actors had their back to the audience seated at the top of the thrust in key moments – Xuande’s George suffered most from this and I never saw his response in that beat with Gordon-Anderson; while Creer’s line that succinctly explains the true meaning of the play’s title was also delivered facing away from a third of the audience.
I loved the use of lighting that slowly dimmed then darkened as key memories from the past were revealed or to engender a sense of foreboding. Smoke was used increasingly in the second half as if to mirror the growing obscurity of events swirling around the Keller's. I wasn’t as fond though of the rock music that was played in the transition from second to third act as it momentarily jarred me out of the time period that had been so effectively built.
This is a carefully and expertly constructed play that really packs a wallop. I admit I was quite moved by the breadth of the Greek-like tragedy that unfolds. It is very well acted with Morel’s performance in particular a highlight.
Written by Arthur Miller, Directed by Tom Healey and starring Andrew Creer, Brittany Morel, Bevan Pfeiffer, Stephanie Panozzo, Hoa Xuande, Benjamin Kindon, Elle Harris, Dacre Montgomery and Harriet Gordon-Anderson, All My Sons runs until Thursday 7 May at The Roundhouse Theatre on the ECU campus in Mount Lawley.