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

young lovers.

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

unadorned truths.

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.


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