Arthur Miller’s classic, All My Sons, at the Ruskin Group Theatre, is an intense story about a family caught up in living a big lie as a consequence of corporate greed. The father, Joe Keller, (Paul Linke) is the linchpin of this intricate drama and has hidden the fact that he knowingly shipped out defective airplane cylinder heads from his factory during World War II resulting in the death of 21 pilots when their planes crashed. The night foreman alerted Joe's deputy manager Steve Deever who called Joe at home and was instructed to weld the cracks and ship the cylinder heads. Later, Joe denied ever giving those instructions and Deever went to prison.
Based on a true story of a young woman who actually turned in her father for selling defective parts for tanks that suffered mechanical failures leading to the death of American soldiers, Miller created a cast of stunning, complicated characters with complex relationships with each other. The cast of characters include Joe’s wife Kate, (Catherine Telford,) Joe’s surviving son Chris, (Dominic Comperatore) Ann, (Austin Highsmith) girlfriend of Chris’ brother Larry who was killed in the war and now in love with Chris, and George, (Maury Sterling) long-time family friend and son of the wrongfully imprisoned Deever.
A play of this intensity requires the utmost of acting and directorial skills, but alas under the direction of Edward Edwards, this production does not offer much more than line readings with most of the actors dropping their voices at the end of each line severing any possible connection between the characters. Transitions were sloppy lacking the necessary moment-to-moment reality that supports the flow of the material and it seemed obvious that most of the actors did not develop their “back stories,” or the unseen part of their characters that contributes to creating fully actualized human beings living in a specific set of circumstances. Although there were some emotional moments toward the end of Act II between Chris and his dad, they were not enough to save this production.
It should be noted, however, that two actors gave the most credible performances – Dominic Comperatore and Maury Sterling. They came closest to the development of the inner life of their characters and both possess strong stage presence.
Directing a play is an overwhelming attention to detail and as they say “the devil is in the details,” so when an actor says “It’s getting dark,” and the stage is brightly lit, well, you get the point. What is particularly perplexing is that director Edwards is the same director who so brilliantly directed The Collector, eliciting electrifying performances from his actors. Hopefully we will see more work of that caliber from him in the future.
The Ruskin Theatre is a hotbed of activity and has produced some highly professional evenings of theatre such as John Patrick Shanley’s Italian American Reconciliation. It is important that a level of excellence be maintained as the theatre has the potential of becoming one of the better smaller theatres in Los Angeles.
Ruskin Group Theatre
3000 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Run: Fridays and Saturdays: 8:00 pm
Sundays: 2:00 pm
Closing: October 2, 2010