Arthur Miller Still Inspires

On Friday night, I went to see the new revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons at Center Stage Playhouse in the Bronx.  Directed by Frank Rakas, the show was an amazing production of one of Miller's first plays (and his first hit).  It is incredible that a drama that was first staged in 1947 can still pull the emotional strings of audiences today.  Miller was an incredible writer with a knack for creating believable characters and building up the dramatic tension until it explodes. The plot (which was inspired by a true story) deals with a family facing crisis after World War II as a dark secret threatens to finally be revealed and destroy bonds between friends and loved ones.

The cast was wonderful.  Michael Raimondi as Chris Keller has the charm of a young Jimmy Stewart and the intensity of Ralph Fiennes at his best.  Ed Bartosik as his father Joe brings both powerful, self-righteous rage and a heartfelt vulnerability to the character.  Maggie Alexander and Ida Longarino return to the stage in spectacular fashion as Anne Deever and Kate Keller respectively after their stellar performances in last year's Rabbit Hole.  The rest of the ensemble all have their moments in the spotlight and all do a fine job: Daniel Koenig as Frank Lubey, Alexandra Dickson as Lydia Lubey, Dennis Whetsel as Dr. Jim Bayliss, Elise Goyette as Sue Bayliss, and Thomas Daverese as Bert (sharing the role of the young 10-year-old neighbor with John O'Donnell for alternating performance nights).  I must give special accolades to Nik Kourtis who does a superb job as George Deever, adding another terrific role to his resume after the great achievement he had in Center Stage's previous production, Proof.

Arthur Miller starts his tale immediately after a foreboding thunderstorm, and as Center Stage's synopsis of the play describes, "the storm that opens the play is only a sprinkle compared to the storm that is unleashed when the truth is told."  Miller masterfully builds the drama, like a brew about to boil over.  Like a crescendo, the tension rises and rises, culminating in an emotional climax that leaves the characters (and many in the audience) in tears.

It is a telling sign of Miller's greatness that his decades-old play can still ring so true all these years later.  Although set in 1947, it addresses timeless themes. The emotional trauma that the characters endure can be easily transposed to the struggles of today, which is what makes the play such a perfect production for revival. 

Kudos to the crew as well: Jason Bolen for his detailed set design, German Bosquez for his period-perfect sound design, and to Christina Watanabe for her atmospheric lighting design.  The intimate space of Center Stage's Foster Hall is always a fantastic environment for live theater and it suits this production nicely.  Even the occasional sound of the subway train going by outside seemed to serve as a symbolic underscore to the action taking place on stage, coming almost as if on cue as actors talked about storms, battlefields, tension, and nightmares.

All My Sons runs for two more weekends.  For information visit Center Stage Playhouse's Web site by clicking here.