Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: All My Sons

Delaware Theatre Company takes Arthur Miller's capitalist corruption drama and gives it a production both classic and utterly of the moment. Review by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: All My Sons


By Wendy Rosenfield

For the Inquirer

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--amidst the myriad 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 Risser-Milne’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 (Maria 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 one, steadies until she appears to have grown taller by act two. 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.

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

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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