Eugene Weekly : Theater : 2.14.08

Still Relevant
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at OSU
By Wade Christensen

A dingy yellow house fills center stage. Wicker furniture rests in front, scattered about among the barn, picnic table and clothes line. Birds chirp, and the radio hums away beneath the cool magenta light. Joe Keller (George Lauris) enters the set through the house’s screen door and mulls about.

It’s August, 1947 in Troy, Mich., inside the Oregon State University theater this evening. The production staff has done everything possible to make sure the audience is convinced that they are living in Arthur Miller’s piece of realism: All My Sons. Joe Keller is a war profiteer responsible for killing 21 pilots by supplying the military with faulty cylinder heads for P-40 airplane engines. He has let his business partner take the fall and now runs a successful machine factory. Slowly the plot unravels. His son Chris (Douglas Wilcox) is at the heart of his family’s flaws. Chris will inherit the money and the business; he wants to marry his missing brother’s girl; and he has convinced himself that his father is innocent of any wrong. It doesn’t take long to see that the perfect family is as cracked as the cylinder heads Joe Keller manufactured.

The OSU production does a sufficient job of supporting Miller’s powerful script. The strongest performance comes from Lauris. Lauris’ deep and raspy voice provides a Joe hardened by life and plagued by his guilt. Kate Keller (Charlotte J. Headrick) also brings convincing life to the stage. She is casual with her lines, making them seem natural though she has trouble speeding the tempo without tripping over her tongue. Dr. Jim Bayless (Dan E. Mueller) plays a pivotal role as the neighbor who is wiser than he lets on. Mueller offers one of the best performances of the show in his small role.

The cast as a whole has trouble with two-person interactions. Almost every performer is strongest during his or her monologues. Vocal tension paces the show and gives it the heaviness it should have; however, the actors also have trouble with physical contact. The physicality came across as blocked and unnatural, though it delivered nice stage pictures.

The choice to undertake All My Sons, with its themes of betrayal and profiting from misery, was no mistake. Today, names like Halliburton and Blackwater stream through the headlines of our newspapers. Miller’s show gives us lines like, “Money, money, money, if you say it enough it doesn’t mean anything,” and, “You don’t love a man here; you eat him. That’s the principle.” Words like these can be all too relevant. We see Chris Keller tormented by the dirty money his father has made and unsure of how to make it right.

OSU brings us a piece of realism relevant beyond its time, and it is performed with enough conviction to create the impact Miller’s script should deliver.

All My Sons continues through Feb. 16. Tix at or 541-737-2853.