Jewel Theatre Company continues to offer local audiences an interesting mix of lesser-known modern works and vintage stage classics reimagined for the modern audience. To launch its 13th season, JTC turns to playwright Arthur Miller, and the early drama that helped establish him as the American bard of postwar, middle-class malaise, All My Sons.
JTC and Santa Cruz Shakespeare veteran Art Manke directs this strikingly staged production of Miller’s second play. Originally produced in 1947, it tells the story of the Keller family, whose experiences during and after the devastations of World War II not only haunt their family and community, but also reflect the shifting moral universe created in the wake of war’s upheaval. The play is very much of its era, but a typically reliable JTC cast delivers the gravity of epic Greek tragedy that the playwright intended.
As in classical drama, the action takes place in a single day, at a single location—the backyard of the Keller home in a suburban American town, circa 1947. Joe Keller (the dynamic Allen Gilmore) is the genial patriarch, joking around with the neighbors, but concerned for his fragile wife, Kate (an excellent Nancy Carlin); three years after the war, Kate still desperately believes that their MIA son Larry will one day come home.
Their second son Chris (Tommy Gorrebeeck) has returned from the war and gone back to work at the manufacturing plant his father runs. (Gorrebeeck is tentative at first, but brings depth and shading to the part in the crucial second act.) Focused on the future, Chris invites his former neighbor Annie (spirited Sierra Jolene), who had been Larry’s girlfriend, for a visit, intending to propose to her. Annie is willing, and Joe approves, despite the objections of Kate, who still considers Annie “Larry’s girl.”
Beneath this domestic drama, a thornier conflict surfaces. Annie’s father, Joe’s former business partner, is in prison, after it was discovered their plant sold faulty aircraft parts to the military. Joe was tried at the same time, but exonerated. As the Keller family’s fateful day heads toward its climax, they receive an unexpected visit from Annie’s jittery brother George (a serious turn from Brian Smolin, last seen in The 39 Steps and The Two Gentlemen of Verona at SCS). Fresh from visiting his father, George blames Joe for destroying his family.
The story ignites at the place where blame, idealism, justice, and truth collide, where the necessity of moving forward confronts the inability to let go of the past. JTC stalwart Diana Torres Koss has some effective scenes as a cheery new neighbor with a WASPish side. And a bubbly Audrey Rumsby, along with Shaun Carroll, lightens the mood as neighbor Lydia, formerly George’s girlfriend, and her horoscope-casting husband, Frank.
This realistic drama plays out in contrast to Kent Dorsey’s highly stylized set. The shape is a frame house with shutters, windows, a screen door and a porch, but every surface is papered over with oversized newspaper clippings about the war, the trial, and stories of MIAs returning home. The backyard furniture is painted in the same buff shade of faded newspapers, as if the war and its aftermath have quietly engulfed the entire house and its inhabitants.
Modern’s costume design extends this idea, with the Keller men and their longtime neighbors in muted plaid shirts in the same off-white color range, and khaki slacks. Kate Keller’s beige and blue dressing gown and grey suit also connects her visually to the family’s past. Only the vibrantly colored dresses of the young women, Annie and Lydia, provide a sense of life and forward-looking optimism against the monochromatic stasis of the Keller family home. It’s a smart visual design for this past-haunted play.
The Jewel Theatre Company production of ‘All My Sons’ plays through Oct. 1 at the Colligan Theater at The Tannery; 425-7506. jeweltheatre.net.