When one sits down to watch a community theatre production of a play like Arthur Miller’s classic, All My Sons, it is with at least a modicum of trepidation. Not because of a lack of faith in the troupe in general, but because Miller’s stories are so deep and dark, his characters so nuanced and layered, it’s just not a sure bet the audience will see more than the recitation of a bunch of lines the actors don’t fully understand as they portray characters they know even less.
Happily, this is most decidedly not the case with the Mid-Ohio Valley Players’ production of the heartbreaking story of the Keller, Deever, Bayliss, and Lubey families as they deal with the aftermath of a scandal involving the Deever and Keller patriarchs. Until a few years earlier, the men were partners in a plant that manufactured cylinder heads for fighter planes during World War II. The plant, in a rush to meet demand from the War Department, shipped over a hundred heads, which had cracks in them. As a result, at least 21 pilots died.
As the story opens, Steve Deever, who was convicted of being the more culpable of the two partners, is about to get out of prison. Joe Keller, Deever’s partner and former best friend, was apparently out sick that day and had nothing to do with the faulty shipment. But, as is to be expected with anything by Miller, there is much more to the story. Complicating this issue is the death of Larry Keller, a fighter pilot in the war and the oldest son of Joe and his wife Katie. Katie refuses to accept the death of her son, even after three-and-a-half years, a fact that puzzles all of her family and friends. Yet one more complication is the engagement of Ann Deever, Larry’s girlfriend and Steve Deever’s daughter, to Chris Keller, Joe and Katie’s son. This might seem like it could turn into a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, and there are some elements of this, in that both families are against the marriage, but the issues here are far more complex than anything presented by the Bard.
This is, without question, the best production I have seen mounted by the MOV Players since Les Miserables in 2015, and the best I have ever seen in my role as a reviewer. Every aspect of this show is worthy of the material. Each actor is subtle and believable. The audience feels the emotions along with the characters. The tension builds as the show progresses and the actors grow and change before our eyes as they learn more and more about their families and even their own realities.
Particularly powerful is Sean Jacob Shoop as Chris, a man who has come back from the war with a completely new view of the world and his role in it, one he cannot translate into civilian life but also cannot understand how the rest of the world doesn’t see it. When he learns a horrifying truth about his father, the one steady influence in his life, his self-image spirals out of control, threatening his relationship with Ann, who is equally strong as portrayed by Beth Lane.
Jeff Walker, who portrays Joe Keller, and Jena Lane Blair, as Katie Keller, are also simply spot-on. The couple, so exhausted from keeping a dreadful secret for so many years, that when things start to come to light, they just can’t seem to hold it together. Walker’s portrayal of a man who sees no priority higher than his family, is visceral and tragically powerful. Blair’s Katie is a woman fixated on the delusion that her son simply cannot be dead. When she says in Act I, “Certain things have to be, and certain thing can never be… That’s why there’s God, so certain things can never happen,” it’s obvious there is more to her belief that her son is still alive than just a mother not being able to let go of her beloved child.
Every member of the cast is worthy of praise, even young Leon Elliott as neighbor boy Bert. Equally admirable is the set. The story, dealing with such epic issues as honesty, guilt, family, our place in and responsibility to the world, and right and wrong, all takes place in the humble back yard of the Keller home. The use of levels is subtle but powerful. There is no real weak spot in this show.
Sadly, the first weekend of the show has passed, but the good news is that you still have three chances to see this beautiful, albeit pathetically sad, show. Performances on January 30 and 31 and February 1 are all at 8pm. To get tickets, contact the box office at 740-374-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get seats at the door the evening of the performance. You’ll be glad you did!