It’s the American dream, slowly being burned from the inside out.
The Kellers' house is quaint, the family is friendly and the lawn is manicured – at first.
Then, bit by bit, we see Arthur Miller’s darkness oozing out of this perfect picture until it’s all out in the open.
That is how you stage All My Sons. Stratford Festival has the aura of this world down pat.
Directed with precision by Martha Henry, All My Sons finds a fitting home at Stratford’s Tom Patterson Theatre.
Staged in the round, set designer Douglas Paraschuk builds us the image of the all-American dream, with a cute little white house and an ample green yard, where the majority of the play’s action takes place and all the Keller secrets are slowly revealed.
Written in 1947, All My Sons was inspired by the Wright scandal of the Second World War, whereby the company was under pressure to provide the U.S. Army Air Force with plane engines, and passed some faulty parts in order to keep production moving.
Joseph Ziegler shows us the pressure of a man being swept up by a capitalist society. He plays a layered Joe Keller, the American family man living the life he always dreamed of, but at a price. We may not agree with Joe. We may even hate him. But Ziegler brings us a character who is externally so prideful, and yet so conflicted and defeated at the same time. It’s this human side to Joe that makes us almost sympathetic towards him.
Watching Lucy Peacock on stage makes your heart hurt. Peacock plays a Kate Keller whose pain emanates through the entire space. She is the perfect matriarch, trying to desperately hold her family together, no matter what sacrifice that entails.
Now, one cannot talk about the cast without mentioning Henry’s choice to cast Sarah Afful as Ann Deever, Chris Keller's (Tim Campbell) love. Afful plays a strong-willed, risk-taking Ann, who evidently stands out from the silly, giggly and gossipy women in the Kellers' neighbourhood.
However, I can’t help but think it would be unlikely for people in 1940s America to be so accepting of an interracial marriage. I mean, sadly, in the ‘40s it wasn’t even legal in a lot of U.S. states. Also, we get to know the Kellers pretty well, and they don’t seem to be the most progressive people in the world.
Nonetheless, Henry’s casting choices shake up typical expectations for All My Sons and give the play a contemporary layer, which I applaud.
All My Sons may bring us back to a very specific time and place in history, but the horrors of these characters’ realities and the decisions they make no doubt continue to ring true in our workaholic, success-obsessed society.
All My Sons plays at the Tom Patterson Theatre as part of the Stratford Festival until Oct. 2. For more information, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca.