THERE'S A BACK-TO-SCHOOL quality about the beginning of the theater season, an anticipation you can coast on for a while—the grievances of the previous season have faded over the summer, and it really is good to see everyone again. But by the second week of school, you've got your locker combo memorized, and you've realized you don't seem to have gotten any cooler over the summer. That sinking, settling feeling is a close approximation what it's like to watch Artist Rep's production of All My Sons, a curious choice of openers that manages to suck a considerable amount of fun out of the season's commencement.
Arthur Miller's script takes as its subject matter a factory that knowingly distributed faulty airplane parts during WWII, resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots. Factory owner Joe Keller (Michael Fisher-Welsh) was arrested, then acquitted, for the distribution of faulty parts—his former friend and partner took the fall instead. When Joe's son Chris (Thomas Stroppel) announces his intention to marry Ann (Amy Newman), the daughter of Joe's jailed partner, old secrets come wriggling to the surface like particularly virulent earthworms after a rainfall. (There's also a plotline involving a dead son, the retelling of which would push this summary beyond all hope of comprehension.)
Familiar themes of filial loyalty and the cost of renouncing one's own blood boom through this weighty production, all somewhat sinisterly backdropped by a colorful, brightly wholesome set. Certain characters, too, function as backdrop, with cartoony affectations that stand in stark contrast to the understated gravitas of the best actors here, namely Amy Newman and Michael Fisher-Welsh.
While the play boasts some fine acting, it's nearly undone by a single performance: Thomas Stroppel registers emotional variance by turning up the volume, and toward the end of the show, when his character is watching his world come crashing down, Stroppel seems more like a kid who's just had his PS3 taken away—goofy in his distress, hard to take seriously.
A certain stuffy staginess and Stroppel's performance aside, Artists Rep does a serviceable job bringing Miller's ponderous script to life. The script's contemporary relevance is hard to find, however—and isn't it a little early in the season to be using terms like "serviceable job"?