Saturday, February 15, 2014

REVIEW: "All My Sons" at Stageworks NW is Quite Good

ALL MY SONS explores a “Sins of the Father” theme as well as others.

This play is the one that put Arthur Miller on the map. Afterwards, he wrote The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, both also considered classics. Ghosts from the past, the legacy and heritage of one’s name, the blurred lines between right and wrong in basically good people, and paying with your life for what you believe or atoning for perceived wrongs, were all prominent themes in his works. This play starts that ball rolling.

Joe Keller (Michael Cheney) seems to be the ordinary businessman during the late 40’s in Ohio. He has a prosperous business, loyal friends and a good family with his wife, Kate (Jamie Hegstad) and his son Chris (Christian Womack). His other son, Larry, went missing during the war. Currently they have Larry’s finance’, Annie Deever (Shae Coleman), staying with them. Her father, his former partner, is now in prison, serving a term for manufacturing faulty airplane engine parts.

They have neighbors in Jim (Caleb Bayliss), a doctor, and his wife, Sue (Shannon Cahoon), living in
The set for Stageworks NW's  production of "All My Sons."
the former Deever home next door. And Frank (Ryan Lee Gaylor) and his wife, Lydia (Ashley Stevens), a former girlfriend of Annie’s brother, George (Chase Smell), and their young son, Bert (Thomas Dennis), live on the other side of the Keller’s. It all seems idyllic until the news that his former partner is being released from prison and a visit from his son, George, now a lawyer, arrives to set the record straight.

This house of cards comes tumbling down around them all, as Chris and Annie declare their love for each other and plan on marrying, despite the fact that Larry has never been declared officially dead, a hope that Kate holds dear that he is still alive. George discovers the full complicity of Joe in the airplane parts scandal and wants to bring it to light. Chris finds out his father may not be the saint he envisioned. Many good pilots crashed because of defective engine parts. And the neighbors may have two faces, toward Joe, and their real feelings about him finally come to a head.

To reveal too much more would be spoiling the climax. But, suffice to say, the common Miller elements I mentioned above, all come into play in this production.

The Production and Players

Christian Womack as Chris Keller (right), the son, and
Shae Coleman as Annie Deever, his soon to be finance'.
The music nicely sets the mood for this show. The set design by the directors is quite good, giving wide berth for the actors to explore. The costumes (Lynn Jansen) also set the stage for us for this bygone era. And, especially the lighting (Jennifer Cheney), is very impressive, layering the illuminations for the best dramatic effect. The direction, by Bethany Pithan and Katherine Jansen (who also designed the set), captures the mood and atmosphere of this gut-wrenching story and lets it build slowly to its tragic ending.

They have cast it well, too. Cheney is perfect as the father, a man ridden with guilt, but putting on a pleasant facade. Hegstad, as his wife, the vessel for attempting to hold onto dreams but choosing not to face realities, is excellent. Womack, as the surviving son, gives us slowly the build from the obedient, dutiful son to a young man with shattered illusions, and performs it well. And Coleman, as the young lady, torn between two worlds, emits a subtle air, waffling between the two.

In a smaller role, I especially liked Stevens, as Lydia, giving us a flighty, flirty neighbor who seems to bend whichever way the wind blows. And, a real prize, is Smell as Annie’s brother. He carefully balances his performance, showing the justifiable anger of his discovery and the deceptive lulling of Kate to remember a more congenial past. He does this beautifully and stands out in the show.

A suggestion I would make is that, at times, the lines become inaudible from some of the cast, partly from volume and partly from articulation. This is a cavernous space, so actors need to take care when expounding in it. I recommend this show.

 If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

This classic Arthur Miller play is being staged by this theatre at their space, 1433 Commerce Ave., Longview, Wash. It will be running through March 2. For more information on this show, and their next production, the musical of 9 to 5, go to or call 360-636-4488.

Review by Dennis Sparks, Guest Blogger
Photos provided.

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