There is no playwright who can match Arthur Miller's unique gift for writing the great American tragedy. Before "Death Of A Salesman" there was "All My Sons" in 1947, a harrowing drama with a catharsis comparable to the Greek classics. Though locked in a specific time and place, the play's themes are as relevant and haunting today as they must have been 72 years ago. Oh, and did I mention, it's a shattering production marking Annette Bening's bravura return to Broadway after more than 30 years.
Practically unrecognizeable as a working class matron in her house dress, Bening coarsens her voice to play Kate still mourning the disappearance of her son, presumed dead, after his plane went down during the war three years earlier. Kate's husband, Joe, an aircraft parts manufacturer ran into trouble after his company shipped out defective parts that caused 21 fatal crashes. He denies knowing about the faulty shipments, but doubts remain. Their other son, Chris an idealistic war vet has invited his late brother's girlfriend to visit, intending to marry her.
I'll say no more but Miller, known for his well-structured plots, sets up a moral conumdrum for the clan and it all comes together, or rather falls apart, in a climactic reckoning that will take your breath away. As written, directed and performed, it's as devastating a scene as you're ever likely to see on a Broadway stage. What could so easily turn melodramatic is directed by Jack O'Brien to maximum dramatic effect without sacrificing emotional honesty.
The three principals, acting their hearts out, seem right at home on that terrifically realistic backyard set. Bening's comeback is a revelation - so comfortable on the stage, it's as if she never left. As Joe whose sole aim is to be a good provider for his family, Tracy Letts brilliantly evokes the myth that material wealth is the key to happiness. And as the dutiful son, Benjamin Walker is just masterful capturing Chris' agonizing moment of truth."
Miller was a great moralist putting the American dream under the microscope. When Joe tries to argue that prosperity and business success, no matter the cost, are the ultimate goals in life, the words still resonate like a punch to the gut. That's the mark of a classic, and given this beautifully calibrated production, in the words of another Miller character: "Attention must be paid."