Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 20, 2005
issue of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Drama Review: "All My Sons"
Welcome the new Emerge Theater Company, founded by Marshall Jones III,
assistant professor in the Theater Arts Department at his alma mater,
Rutgers University, and the company’s premiere production, the
astonishingly topical and relevant "All My Sons." It is 58 years since
Arthur Miller’s play was decried as Communistic and a blatant
undermining of the American business ethos. Whether the accusations
and allegations have been proved by the passage of time to be either
misguided, arguable, or on the money certainly depends upon how you
view our current political and social climate.
Miller’s story of how a ruthless and reckless business decision, one
that allowed defective cylinder heads to be delivered to the Army and
thereby causing the death of 21 pilots, appears to grow more timeless
with each year. It is this sense of time and timelessness that
director Samuel E. Wright has attempted to capture, in accord with
Miller’s script, by correctly setting the play in the "August of our
era," and not specifically in 1947, the year the play was first
While the action that affects the lives of two entwined families is
dramatized in a simple way, the play gains an unexpected dimension
with its credibly multi-racial vision, especially in regard to the
It is this vision that has apparently inspired Wright to make his
professional directing debut. Best known as a performer, and in
particular for his role as Mufasa in the Broadway musical "The Lion
King," Wright displays a keen, if still insecure, flair for theatrical
effectiveness. A pantomimed prologue that is meant to reflect the
multi-racial makeup of the neighborhood is unnecessary and ponderous,
as is a pretentiously protracted final scene. But it is with the heart
of the play that Wright keeps faith with this drama’s basic and
For the most part, this production is buoyed by thoughtful intense
acting. There is something refreshing happening within this logical
but terrifying conscience-stretching conflict. While the play has
always had an indivisible clarity of purpose, it now appears, in this
staging, to have moved subtly from its moral-driven diatribes to
reflect instead the ethics and mercurial dynamics of the young lovers.
At the forefront of the drama is the charismatic performance of
Phillip Christian, as Chris Keller, the older son who has fallen in
love with his dead brother’s fiancee. Christian, whose regional
theater credits include Morrocco in "The Merchant of Venice" at the
Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, sparks the drama when things tend
to cool, in particular his ingratiating moment singing a few bars of
Phil Collins’ "One More Night." A graduate of the Yale School of
Drama, Christian smoothly shifts dramatic gears from innocence to
strength to disillusionment.
Exceptionally pretty Heather Kenzie is also impressive as Anne Deever,
in this case the very blonde and white fiancee who must face the
combined anxieties in regard to her jailed father, her love for Chris,
and the disapproving presence of Mrs. Keller.
Iranian-American Ali Reza appears to be struggling through most of the
play to connect with the complexly conflicted conscience that
motivates Joe Keller, the manufacturer who has not only committed
perjury to avoid a jail sentence but also has allowed his innocent
business partner to take the rap. I expect that more performances will
find see him more boldly maneuvering the precarious curves that takes
Joe from a lazy good-humored facade to one that visibly festers as the
crippling fraudulence of his act is faced, an act to which his own son
fell victim. Meena Jahi, an African-American, is terrific and often
heartbreaking in the role of the neurotic Kate Keller, a woman who
remains a shield to her tortured husband even as the arrows of truth
are set to pierce for the kill. Perry Ojeda is also effective as
George Deever, Anne’s embittered lawyer brother, and fuels his scene
as a bundle of nerves and barely contained fury.
Wright had his work cut out for him, as the program credits him with
designing the set, a modestly evoked facade of the Keller home and its
backyard, replete with arbor, leaf burner, and apple tree in blossom.
The visual impressions would be even better served had Jerome J. Hoppe
Jr.’s lighting been less harsh and more subtly applied to characters
(smartly outfitted by costume designer Jennifer Anderson), who have
been unable to face their tragic reality.
As you watch this drama unfold about people who are suddenly made to
deal with that tragedy, you will be hard pressed not to also think
about how and why our government knowingly sent humvees without proper
steel plating, failed to send enough field radios, night vision
goggles, and even ammunition to our troops in Iraq. "A suicide
mission" is what the 343rd Quarter Master Company called its orders to
advance without proper armor.
You would have to have been asleep for the past four years if you
don’t think of the profiteering Halliburton Corporation, the company
that has been over-charging the government for fuel and meals, when
you hear the line, "He’d like to take any man who made money during
the war and put him up against the wall."
In the preview feature published April 13 in U.S. 1, Jones is quoted
as saying: "The company’s mission is to give an opportunity for
multi-cultural and multi-ethnic artists to have their creative visions
emerge." It is encouraging to see Emerge Theater Company assert itself
as an active and distinctive voice in local theater. "All My Sons" is
an auspicious beginning.
– Simon Saltzman
"All My Sons," through Sunday, April 24, Emerge Theater Company at
Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Tickets $45.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.