Acting that ranges from excellent to awkward makes watching the bleak drama "All My Sons" at the Broadway Stage an uneven kind of experience.
Ironically, the best reason for seeing the play is that it's about the aftermath of war. We are living through such a time right now.The questions we ask ourselves after Desert Storm are different than the questions we asked ourselves after Vietnam. But men and women of conscience took a critical look at our society after WWII, too. We may have forgotten those questions.
Arthur Miller's characters care - some even agonize over the fact - that millions of people died during a war that made defense contractors rich and yanked an entire American economy out of the Depression.
Guilt. We don't have a monopoly on it in 1991.
Another good reason for watching the play is to compare it to "Death of a Salesman."
"All My Sons" was written first. (It premiered on Broadway in January of 1947 and won the Drama Critic's Circle Award that year.)
In "All My Sons" we see the seeds of "Death of a Salesman." A son realizes that the father he thought was perfect is actually flawed.
"All My Sons" is a much more intense play from the first minute than is "Death of a Salesman." That intensity is hard to manage for three acts.
In spite of a cozy set - designed by Marnie Sears - and the energetic efforts of a group of skilled actors, the first act of "All My Sons" doesn't hit on all cylinders.
Here is a family welcoming home a young woman who used to be their neighbor. I think Miller intended for them to seem a little dysfunctional, but basically warm and welcoming.
Instead, the Keller family seems, to a person, odd and unhappy. We don't see them as warm. The jokes that the father, Joe Keller, makes with Ann, the neighbor, are a bit awkward. The scenes with other actors and other neighbors are awkward, too.
So it's difficult to get caught up by the characters at first.
By the second and third acts we are caught up. When George, Ann's brother, come calling, the cast does a masterful job of acting. Goerge, Anthony Leger, wants to save Ann, Robin Murdock, from marrying into a family he sees as evil.
Kris Johnson, who plays Ann's boyfriend, is quite convincing as a man desperate over the woman he loves. Murdock, too, is angry, stubborn, and real.
And Bonnie Durrance-Doyle and Ivan Crosland, as Kate and Joe Keller, turn in the best performances of the evening as the aging parents who are fixing grape juice and patting George on the back and doing everything they can to reconstruct for him those old happy days when he was a child in the neighborhood.
Life goes from bad to dismal, as in most of Miller's plays. "All My Sons" gives us little to laugh at but much to ponder. And for those who want to think deeply about war, "All My Sons" offers an opportunity.