Theater Reviews

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Venue: Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, New York (Through Jan. 11)

Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" has never exactly been a subtle play, and in the hands of Simon McBurney it doesn't get any subtler.

For this Broadway revival, the British director has taken a decidedly experimental approach that unfortunately emphasizes its heavy-handed aspects.

Miller's first Broadway success, the 1947 drama centers on the tragic figure of Joe Keller (John Lithgow), a businessman who barely escaped being imprisoned after his company produced defective cylinder heads during World War II that resulted in the deaths of 21 American pilots.

His wife, Kate (Dianne Wiest), is still desperately hoping for the return of their son Larry, MIA for three years, while his other son Chris (Patrick Wilson), convinced that his brother is dead, is in love with Larry's former girlfriend, Ann (Katie Holmes, making her Broadway debut).

When Ann's brother George (Christian Camargo), the son of Joe's former partner, shows up to accuse Joe of having made his father a scapegoat, the ensuing revelations have tragic consequences.

McBurney provides a highly stylized, theatrical element to the proceedings, beginning with the cast introducing the play to the audience before it begins and a storm sequence that wouldn't be out of place in "The Wizard of Oz." Performed on a minimalist set featuring little more than the outline of a house, a door, an uprooted tree and a few pieces of fence, the production includes generous doses of video projections, portentous sound effects and dramatic musical underscoring.

The results are more distracting than revelatory. Miller's writing already is so emphatic that it doesn't need to be enhanced. Even the climactic battle between father and son is staged with enough physical violence to qualify for a World Wrestling match.

The acting, too, is frequently over the top. Although Wiest and Wilson remain movingly grounded for the most part, Lithgow succumbs to overplaying in the final scenes.

Although she's far from terrible, Holmes, like so many film performers who venture onstage, doesn't really make much of an impact. She's generally more effective in the gentler love scenes than when called upon for dramatic fireworks.

Ultimately, despite all the theatrical fanciness on display, the raw power of Miller's play still shines through. But it's a shame that more faith couldn't have been placed in the material.

Cast: John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson, Katie Holmes, Becky Ann Baker, Christian Camargo, Michael D'Addario, Danielle Ferland. Playwright: Arthur Miller.
Director: Simon McBurney
Presented by: Eric Falkenstein, Ostar Prods., Barbara H. Freitag, Stephanie P. McClelland, Scott Delman, Roy Furman and Ruth Hendel in association with Hal Luftig, Jane Bergere and Jamie deRoy.
Scenic & costume design: Tom Pye
Lighting design: Paul Anderson
Sound design: Christopher Shutt, Carolyn Downing


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