“All My Sons” by Arthur Miller is based on the true scandal during World War II of knowingly placing with the help of some U.S. Army inspectors defective aircraft parts manufactured by the Wright Aeronautical Corporation into combat aircraft resulting in the death of many military air crews.
In this story Arthur Miller shifts the story to the Keller and Deever families who find their fathers involved on trial for shipping defective engine parts that resulted in the death of 21 service men from their factory. At the trial Joe Keller (Paul Shelley) shifts all the blame onto his partner who serves a prison sentence for his crimes while Joe walks free with no evidence against him.
Against this background after the war, we meet the Keller family and a mother – Kate Keller (Trudie Goodwin) who refuses to believe that her missing in action combat pilot son Larry is dead and that after more than three years he will return home safe. Her other son Chris is at home but was wounded in the war.
The opening scene is well set with the first few bars of Glenn Miller’s “American Patrol” playing in the background as we open to a magazine cover slice of post war Americana life as Joe, Chris (Robert Jack), and neighbours Dr Jim Bayliss (David Tarkenter) and Frank Lubey (Steven Scott-Fitzgerald) are at the garden of the Kellers house while a neighbourhood child runs around. Intentionally or not, the Glenn Miller music is most appropriate to this story as his aircraft disappeared over the English Channel during the war as he was en route to entertain the troops.
This is a big day today as ex-neighbour and business partner’s daughter Ann Deever is returning. Ann was Larry’s sweethearts and unknown to the parents, Chris and Ann have been swapping letters for some years and she has returned to marry him...but Ann is Larry’s girl and that is going to cause some problems
Things seem to be running smoothly as we meet other neighbours – Sue Bayliss (Lyn McAndrew) and Lydia Lubey (Pauline Turner) until a phone call announces the return of Ann’s brother George (Michael Moreland) who is now a lawyer and has just visited his father in prison.
Like many other works from Arthur Miller, this captures a small slice of someone’s life from a very ordinary set of people. Much of the story is held together by the parents Kate and Joe played in great form here by Paul and Trudie. There is a typical post-war American self-made family here, but there are obviously many things that are just left unspoken.
Although well played as characters, the romance between Ann and Chris just does not seem to be there on stage though. There is nothing to indicate that these two have been writing to one another for over two years and waiting all that time to be with one another…nothing to say that Chris is the man that Ann broke off a previous engagement for.
So much of the attention in this piece of work centres around the Keller and the Deever families that we get to know little about the neighbours around them as they are only passing through most of the time, but we do get a few glimpses of their lives –Lydia Lubey and George Deever have grown up together, Frank Lubey makes horoscopes, Dr Jim Bayliss wants to do research work and is in a not too happy marriage with his wife Sue.
There is a nice simple set design by Neil Murray that looks like it could have come from the front of a Saturday Evening Post magazine from this period (I have lots of them here and they do look like that at times). The sort of scene you would expect from a Norman Rockwell cover of this magazine. The styling of the clothes is pretty accurate too for this period.
There are of course other issues raised in this work such as the immorality of men profiteering from the war...the simple fact that every bomb, every truck, every bullet ever made and shipped out made someone a profit somewhere. Against this we also have the contrast of the sacrifices that a fighting unit can make for each other when the only object is survival against an enemy and money means nothing at all. These two themes are particularly close to Chris who lost most of his platoon in combat and as well as physical injuries suffers “Survivor’s Guilt”. All in all, a fairly hard swipe from Arthur Miller against the capitalist dream that American society has been built upon.
As usual, there is more going on in this story than this review will tell and things really unfold in Act Two to some inevitable conclusions. As I overheard some people talking at the interval and trying to guess what would happen next, I am leaving Act Two if you do not know the story to be as big a surprise for you as it was for them.
Overall just a well produced, directed and acted piece of work capturing what we all now imagine to be a lost slice of immediate post-war American life.