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Wednesday, 22 January 2014 23:35

Arthur Miller’s ‘All My Sons’ still resonates with its tale of family tragedy

Written by Tina Farmer
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The Kirkwood Theatre Guild's production of Arthur Miller's American classic "All My Sons," is much like the story's characters, flawed but compelling and, ultimately, likeable. The "based on true events" play attempts to find its way through the blurred lines where personal and professional cross with profit and death.

The story focuses on two families and the repercussions of a fatal decision that caused 21 military deaths. The patriarch of each family was convicted and sent to prison, but one was exonerated and released, while the other was not. It is a layered story, with many secrets and revelations.

The story to unfold may be dark and tragic, but the mood and stage dressing surrounding the characters reflect the post-war sentiment and warm glow of small town America. The guild did an excellent job creating an inviting environment for the show. The colors are bright and the set comfortable and welcoming; the overall affect is cheerful and stridently optimistic.

The costumes, hair and make up, by Ann Wessley, are evocative of the period, and the seamed stockings representative of the many small details that fill the show with a sense of time and place. The magnificent period set, by Merrick Mohler, is charming and the boldly painted rocking chairs and glider add the perfect finishing touch. Finally, the technical effects, by technical director JD Wade, lighting designer Denis Wade, and set designer Frank Lewis, tie everything together. The initial thunder and lightening in the show's opening scene was impressive and effectively set a nervous tone that carried throughout the show.

Ken Lopinot, Rebecca Davidson and Jeff Kargus are the Keller family. Though Mr. Keller was freed from prison, the family has not found true peace and happiness. They put on to the contrary, but their lives have been permanently changed by the death of son Larry in the war. Mrs. Keller believes her son is missing, not dead, because his body has never been recovered. It's a belief that's critical to her character's well being but is preventing everyone from acknowledging the truth. She is merely delaying the eventual repercussions.

Davidson, as the mother, is at once agitated and fragile and her performance reflects a woman caught in a trap. She somehow understands the price her family will pay if she surrenders to the inevitable acceptance. Davidson was sufficiently upset, perhaps to the point of clouding some of her opportunities to reveal the previous warmth and generosity alluded to in the character.

Lopinot plays the father with a stubborn consistency that never wavers until it breaks down completely. He simply wants to leave the past and focus on the future. He has rebuilt his business from the scandal and is eager to pass his success on to his remaining son. There's a dogged stubbornness to his role that goes beyond his willingness to indulge his wife's conviction.

Kargus's Chris is as conflicted by his family legacy as he is determined to marry Ann Deever, formerly the sweetheart of his brother. Kargus gives a strong performance here, showing a range of emotion and finding multiple levels in his character. At times, he seemed to be reigning in when I wanted him to let more rise to the surface and pour out, but his Chris was compassionate and heartfelt. He even seemed to blush on cue.

Strong performances were also turned in by the supporting cast, particularly Amanda Vick as Ann Deever and Stephen Peirick, as George Deever, the children torn by their father's continued imprisonment. Each found moments to reveal conflict and confusion, emphasizing the lure and comfort of the past as suggested by the peaceful setting. John Hey and Nancy Nigh added considerable energy and humor as the quibbling, but loving, Dr. and Mrs. Bayless and Nori Rhodes sparkles as Lydia Lubey. Bert, played with eager and spirited style by Hayden Benbenek, and Preston R. Murchison's studious but dull Frank Lubey, round out the cast nicely.

The show was a strong production from the guild, but I felt director Jan Meyer could have pushed the actors to find more levels in their characters. It was as if a single motivation was assigned to each character, rather than allowing the characters to explore the full range of connection and reaction to the story's many twists and revelations. There were also several lost moments on stage the performance I attended, as well as a few too many stumbles and pauses between lines that occasionally disrupted the story.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild's production of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" doesn't break any new ground or fully explore the emotional context of the characters. The show is, however, a solid and reverent treatment of a great American tragedy.

"All My Sons" runs through January 26, 2014 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre. For reservations or more information, visit or call (314) 821-9956.

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