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THEATER REVIEW: “All My Sons" by Arthur Miller

The windstorm-broken tree in the backyard may symbolize more than a lost son in Arthur Miller’s underestimated play “All My Sons,” getting a sterling production through April 19 at Intrepid Shakespeare Company.

It’s the late 1940s, and businessman Joe Keller (Tom Stephenson) lives with his wife Kate (Savvy Scopelleti) and son Chris (Brian Mackey) in their comfortable upper middle-class American home. Joe supervised the production of aircraft parts used in World War II.

Joe and Kate’s son Larry was a military pilot shot down on his final mission three years earlier. Though the body was never recovered, everyone in the neighborhood has accepted the death except Kate, who lives in denial, relies on astrology and tries to convince all that Larry will return one day.

Second son Chris served in the war as well, leaving him with survivor’s guilt and a disdain for shallow upper middle-class concerns – to the extent that he does not want to take over the family business.

Chris’ announcement that he will marry Larry’s former girlfriend Ann Deever (Jacque Wilke) – who is visiting in the Keller home now – makes for awkward moments and acrid emotional exchanges with Kate.

That’s not all. Tension increases further with the appearance of Ann’s attorney brother George (Tom Hall). Their father was Joe’s business partner until it was discovered that their firm produced a defective product – cracked cylinder heads – that led to 21 plane crashes and as many pilot deaths. Joe was exonerated, but his partner has been in jail for 18 years. George is convinced that Joe is just as guilty as his father.

Miller tells a tense, almost explosive story of guilt, grief, family loyalty and the destruction of the American dream. It requires a superb cast, and Intrepid provides one.

Stephenson’s Joe is solid as a rock on the outside, but though he’s trying to hold it together for Kate, it’s clear the volcano of guilt may blow at any time. The collision between social responsibility and family need have brought him to this place, and it shows. It’s a superb portrayal.

Scopelleti’s Kate is heartbreaking, consumed with the grief she can’t admit, living in her own fantasy world and threatening to disrupt Chris’ attempts to move on.

Mackey’s Chris treads that fine line between trying to be the son his father needs and his own needs. The war has changed his outlook and he’s ready for change.

Tom Hall is properly angry and menacing as George, the man who threatens everything Joe holds dear.

Jacque Wilke’s Ann provides a breath of fresh air as the only hint of normality in this family grouping.

Danny Campbell, Wendy Waddell, Brian Rickel, Erin Petersen and Christian Payne are also convincing in smaller roles.

Sean Yael-Cox and Director Christy Yael-Cox have designed a handsome backyard set where the action takes place. The fine sound design is also their work.

Unfortunately, sound problems continue to dog this space, making it mandatory for actors here to speak louder and more clearly than is normally required. At times when these actors whisper or face upstage or to either side, words are lost to parts of the audience.

Curtis Mueller’s lighting sets the mood, and Kristin McReddie and Monique Hanson set the scene well with period-appropriate costumes, hair and makeup design.

Miller raises difficult questions in this story, reportedly inspired by a news report that a woman from the Midwest turned her father in for making and selling defective airplane parts to the Army.

Although “All My Sons” won Tonys for Miller and for best direction (Elia Kazan), it has never been as popular as the later “Death Of A Salesman.”

I think it is every bit as good. My advice is to see this fine production.

The details

Intrepid Shakespeare Company production of “All My Sons” plays through April 19 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre, 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas (on the campus of San Dieguito Academy).

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (800) 718-4253 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.

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