All My Sons (New Theatre) – theatre review

It has been said that the first casualty of war is the truth. Unfortunately, as human casualties escalate, the task of knowing what the truth is becomes murkier. All My Sons looks into this issue at a family level, where grief, hurt and anger is matched by lies and cover up. Written by Arthur Miller in 1946, All My Sons is a rich drama set in the home of a reasonably well-off family in mid-western USA. The subject of a man missing in action will resonate with families wherever a son or daughter has served in the defence of their country.

Joe and Kate Keller are patriotic Americans. They have watched their two sons, Larry and Chris go off to fight the war in Europe: Larry as an airman and Chris as an Army Captain. Chris returned but Larry has been missing for three years. Kate is keeping hopes high that Larry will return, but it is now 1946 and there is no reasonable reason to believe he will ever return. Joe, Chris and others understand her grief but urge her to accept reality. “Let her go” says Chris.

A neighbour, Frank Lubey encourages Kate’s hopes by preparing a favourable horoscope of Larry. It is a difficult topic to broach with Kate as she constantly looks for mystical signs that Larry is still alive. A fallen tree, planted for Larry, is another signal that he must be still alive. Joe has done well during the war. His neighbour and business partner Steve Deever have manufactured engine parts for US aircraft, profiting very well. However, Steve now resides in a penitentiary, having been found guilty of supplying faulty parts. This resulted in the deaths of 21 airmen. Steve’s daughter Ann was Larry’s girl. She has accepted his death and is set on marrying Joe’s other son Chris. When Ann’s brother George arrives, the whole mood changes. He brings news that will alter the relationship dynamics with devastating results.

Miller’s plot could be melodramatic if it weren’t inspired by real events during the war. It showcases profiteering, the mirage of the American Dream and the fragility of the nuclear family. The play is also a commentary on the search for happiness in a material world. Themes of love, greed, vengeance, shame and hope permeate the storyline. Suicide is dealt with in a matter-of-fact way, a feature of the era in which Miller lived.

Characterisations by the cast were exceptionally good. In the role of Kate, Kath Gordon captured the mental torture of a grieving mother clinging to hope whilst hiding the truth about her husband. In contrast, Greg Poppleton as Joe had to maintain the façade of a happy, successful and strong father in the knowledge of concealing his role in a crime which has placed an innocent man in jail. Kyle Barrett as Chris portrayed a young idealist, suffering survivor guilt from the war. Torn between what his father wants for him and the love of his sweetheart. The hero in the story is Ann Deever. To her, revelations of truth come at a high price. Performed perfectly by Bridget Haberecht, she embodies the struggle ‘good’ people endure when lies and deception are allowed to reign.

Supporting roles were ably performed: Liam Greinke as Frank Lubey, Michael Harris as Dr Jim Bayliss, James Hartley as George Deever, Mariah Stock as Lydia Lubey, Kaitlyn Thor as Sue Bayliss and young Jack Waters as Bert.

Under the Direction of Saro Lusty-Cavallari, cast and crew worked in unison to create an engrossing and entertaining production. The backyard set design (Kate Beere) with cottage had a homely, ‘all-American’ feel to it. Lighting (Aron Murray) met its challenges of day, night and storm effects very well. As did sound (Saro Lust-Cavallari), with a special feature of overhead bombers in the opening scene.

This production of All My Sons is a great compliment to Arthur Miller. I commend it to anyone seeking a good ole meaty drama with family intrigue and a firm anti-war message.

All My Sons is at New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown, Sydney until 27 May 2023 Bookings: https://newtheatre.org.au

Paul Kiely
For more of Paul Kiely’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre

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