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'All My Sons' howls with renewed fervor in Averill Park

“ALL MY SONS”

What: A play by Arthur Miller

Remaining dates: 8 to 10 p.m. on Thursday (March 12), Friday (March 13) and Saturday (March 14); 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday (March 15).

Where: Sand Lake Center for the Arts, 2880 NY-43, Averill Park, N.Y.

Presented by: Circle Theatre Players

Directed by: Barry Streifert

Tickets: Adults, $18; children (18 and under), $10. To purchase: slcactp.ticketleap.com

More info: Call SLCA at (518) 674-2007

Photo caption: Fred Sirois as Joe Keller. Photo by Joan Fuess.


By Patrick White Special to InPlay Capital Region


The Circle Theatre Players are doing a bang-up job on “All My Sons,” the Arthur Miller perennial that speaks with renewed urgency to an America that has seemed to have lost its way in treating all citizens as equal and precious to the communal health of the country. Miller wrote the play based on a true story that his mother-in-law had pointed out to him. It was his last-ditch effort at playwriting after his Broadway debut, “The Man Who Had All the Luck,” lasted four performances. “Sons” opened in January 1947 and ran for over two years.


The story of the play – being performed at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park, N.Y. -- is that Joe Keller, played by Fred Sirois, an American industrialist, is enjoying a Sunday morning in his backyard. The daughter of his former neighbor Ann Deever (Tess McHugh), who had been engaged to his eldest son Larry, who has been missing from the war for nearly three years, has come back to visit the younger son Chris Keller (Jacob Morgan Fisch). Joe strongly suspects there is a relationship between the two of them.


They have been writing to each other for two years, and eventually Chris proposes in a sweet scene but must keep the news from the mother, Kate Keller (Karleen Hayden), who still believes Larry will return home. Chris works in his father’s manufacturing plant, a plant that shipped out defective airplane engine parts during the war. After Joe was exonerated, the blame fell on Ann’s father, the unseen Steve Deever, who is serving time in jail for knowingly shipping out the cracked cylinder heads to the Air Force. At the end of the first act, Ann’s brother George (Todd Langley) calls and announces he is coming to settle things.


I’ve always believed that actors need great plays they believe in to achieve their best performances, and there must be something monumentally inspirational in Miller’s barn-burner of collective conscience because I’ve never seen a better performance from nearly everyone in this cast than I saw last Friday. Director Barry Streifert deserves huge kudos for guiding his cast through this difficult play, which has more developments, significance and connections between characters than some theaters have in a season.


I could have used a heightened pace, especially in Act I and late in the play, when we should be hurtling to the conclusion. But that shortcoming didn’t seriously affect my enjoyment of the work. Sirois as the head of the household is a solid anchor to the production, deftly controlling and manipulating from his wicker arm-chair. He is extraordinarily powerful when he rises and challenges, but he also can play sweet and light with Ann and Burt, Liam White irresistibly playing the neighborhood scamp.

Sirois has terrific use of his voice and speech, and it all seems to flow naturally from him.


His devastation at the end is well played and very effective. Playing his wife, Karleen Hayden, is a revelation to me. I hadn’t expected such a strong, domineering performance in apron strings. Joe might bluster, but mother holds cards that still surprise me even after the number of times I’ve seen this play. She is gracious, courteous and hospitable until you cross her; then, watch out!


The cast, however, doesn’t need to work so hard; they can relax and trust that all their work is powerfully evident to the audience.


Jacob Morgan Fisch is terrific as Chris, all energetic ideals and open-hearted belief until his eyes are pried open. McHugh is delightful as Ann. She definitely is a woman worth coming home to and worth sacrificing everything for. She gathers strength from the secret she holds and reluctantly bares at the play’s climax. As the neighbors who bought the Deever house, the real-life husband-and-wife team of Bill and Pat Douglas play the Baylisses. Bill is all easy equanimity as the doctor, Jim, and Pat does a great job as Sue in one of my favorite scenes that Miller ever wrote threatening Ann and warning her to take Chris and his ideals and move far away. She rips off the façade of easy virtue that Chris has been wearing and demands to know at what cost.


Excellent scene, ladies.


Langley, as George, comes on stolid and troubled after visiting his father in jail. He could use more fiery anger, but his transformations later in the scene, melting with Kate and catching a lie, are well played. The Lubeys also are neighbors, and they are Evan Brooksby and the lovely Maddie Illenberg, who lights up the stage with every entrance.

The set design and construction are by Michael McDermott, Bryce Ginther, Eric Washburn, Drew White, Barbara Neu-Berti and Anna Church. It has a nice shape and is very useful, but there are a few too many textures going on. Costumes were great again by board president Barbara Neu-Berti. Anne-Marie Baker did the sound design, which usually is Barry’s strength, but there was a well-chosen selection of period songs both pre-show and at intermission. Stage Management was by the invaluable Melody Kruger, and Rebecca Gardner saved the day as a last-minute board operator.


The Greeks had play festivals in which the community would debate the values of their society. On Friday night, there were less than half a dozen seats available for this play. Miller’s idealism and criticism of the American ethos that all is justified in this country in the pursuit of business made him a target for the House Un-American Activities Committee and secured his place as the moral conscience of American theater.


The Circle Theatre Players, who had such a great production of “The Crucible” a couple of years ago, have lit up the sky again with this powerful production. The near-capacity crowd on Friday gave this company a prolonged standing ovation. If criticizing this nation’s selfishness and greed is an un-American activity, I wholeheartedly recommend your attendance at this dissenting production.


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