'All My Sons' arrives with uncanny timing

Robert Eli (left), P.J. Ben- jamin as son and father in Delaware Theatre Company's "All My Sons."
Robert Eli (left), P.J. Ben- jamin as son and father in Delaware Theatre Company's "All My Sons." (MATT URBAN)
Posted: October 25, 2011

As they say in show biz, timing is everything. But Delaware Theatre Company's timing, opening Arthur Miller's capitalist corruption drama All My Sons - amid the Occupy Wall Street protests, and the same week 20/20 aired an episode revealing the damage Bernie Madoff's crimes inflicted on his late son - is uncanny. Or maybe it's just that like so many of the themes in Miller's work, the more business changes, the more it stays the same.

Most remarkable, perhaps, is the way director David Stradley presents the play's first-act American dream as though it were a diorama depicting life in another century, which, 64 years on, it is. Matthew Myhrum's set gets the details just right, from the backyard of a white clapboard house with green shutters and red brick foundation, to its crew-cut emerald lawn, and chain-link fence separating the neighbors. Only a felled young tree signals trouble ahead. Jessica RisserMilne's costumes pop with the colors of spring bulbs on the ladies - daffodil yellow, hyacinth blue, crocus purple - and settle into muted earth tones on the gentlemen.

The war is over, our country is healing, and prosperity spreads out like a rolling suburb, as far as the eye can see. Miller, however, wants to show what also spreads where you can't see.

The Kellers of All My Sons precede Death of a Salesman's Lomans by two years, but like them, machine-shop owner Joe (P.J. Benjamin) and Kate (Anne-Marie Cusson) have two sons: Larry, a fighter pilot declared missing in action right around the time that tree was planted, and Chris (Robert Eli). Chris hopes to marry Larry's girl, Ann (Maia DeSanti), also the daughter of Joe's former business partner. The trouble? Twenty-one pilots died because of faulty cylinders knowingly shipped out by Joe's factory; Ann's dad ended up in prison. Joe went free.

Stradley manipulates the tight, old-fashioned joinery of Miller's work with a sure hand. Benjamin's Keller shuffles and grins, benign and benevolent until his mask starts to slip. Cusson's Kate, weak and addled in Act 1, steadies until she appears to have grown taller by Act 2. And when Jered McLenigan, as Ann's brother George, arrives from out of town with a message from their father, his movements are as taut as the others' are expansive.

No one, not even George, wants to be responsible for the Kellers' tipping point, but just like Madoff, and Enron's Jeffrey Skilling, and all the others, they know it's coming. This savvy production is a warning for the rest of us.

All My Sons

Through Nov. 6 at Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water St., Wilmington. Tickets: $35-$49. Information: 302-594-1100 or www.DelawareTheatre.org.

Follow Wendy Rosenfield on Twitter at #philastage. Read her reviews at http://www.philly.com/phillystage.

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