Dianne Wiest, John Lithgow, Katie Holmes and Patrick Wilson, the leads in All My Sons.
BOTTOM LINE: Holmes, I stand corrected.
Back in May, when the cast of All My Sons was announced and I learned that Katie Holmes would play the role of Ann Deever, I wrote about my concern for this casting choice. I was worried that All My Sons, a tremendous play by Arthur Miller, was too complex a production for Katie's acting abilities. You can read my snarky post of doubt here.
I am both pleased and humbled to tell you that Holmes did not suck hard. In fact, she didn't suck at all. She was actually really good. And acting alongside her were John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson, and a stellar supporting cast. All My Sons is a near-perfect production. It's certainly one of the best plays I've ever seen. And Holmes deserves to be a part of it.
All My Sons is the very heavy story of the Kellers, a Midwestern family post-WWII. The Kellers are nearly destroyed themselves as a result of the war: younger son Larry went missing in combat 3 years prior and father, Joe (Lithgow), was involved in a scandal that sent his business partner to jail and contributed to the deaths of many soldiers when faulty plane parts were knowingly sent overseas. This business partner happens to be the father of Larry's girlfriend Ann (Holmes). The play opens as Ann comes back to town to visit the older Keller son, Chris (Wilson), who wants to marry Ann. The mother, Kate (Wiest) refuses to accept that Larry is dead and therefore forbids Chris from marrying Larry's girl.
It's dysfunctional, it's depressing, it's maticulously executed. Simon McBurney's direction is engaging and always appropriate. The production design leaves the audience engrossed in the acting on stage (which is really stellar on all counts). The theatrical experience is visceral and moving, and this well-crafted story is given roots to grow and challenge its audience. I loved this performance and I think it's well worth seeing for anyone who enjoys the pleasure of live theatre. Plus, the acting is as supurb as can be.
BOTTOM LINE #2 : Better Than Equus
(Molly and Dan both saw All My Sons and loved it- so much that we wanted to review it twice.)
When I first heard about this production, I didn’t care one way or the other about Katie Holmes. Since I wasn’t familiar with Miller’s play at all (and only knew Holmes as part of TomKat), I had no opinion about whether or not she could do the role. But I DID know of Simon McBurney (the director)- I have seen several of his shows, and found them to be some of the most memorable theatrical experiences I have ever had. But before I explain why McBurney’s direction is so terrific, and why it makes for a thrilling evening, let me briefly touch on the incredible acting in this show.
I’ll echo Molly and say that Katie Holmes is actually quite good. Even better is Patrick Wilson. But for me, they were both overshadowed by the unforgettable performances of John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest. It’s fairly early in the season, but I bet both are shoo-ins for Tony nominations- they are that good. The Keller parents are the center of Miller’s play- they are the most complex characters, with past experiences that ultimately inform and dictate the events of the play. And Lithgow and Wiest are incredible as they release the pressure, pressure built-up over years and years of “normal family living”, of sacrifice and compromise and hope and despair. I still can’t get one of the final images out of my mind- that of Wiest curled up in a chair, watching as her family crumbles around her. (And before I forget, one of the supporting players is Danielle Ferland- if you have ever seen the video of the original Broadway Into The Woods, or listened to the recording, Ferland played Little Red Riding Hood. She was also the young girl in the original Sunday In The Park with George.)
But aside from these performances, there is McBurney’s direction. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, McBurney heads up a theater company called Complicite; based in London, their most recent NY productions have been The Chairs, Mnemonic and The Elephant Vanishes. While Complicite’s work is often characterized as “experimental”, I have always found it more visceral and moving and (dare I say it) accessible than a lot of other experimental work (The Wooster Group, for example). And what I love about McBurney’s work in All My Sons is that he weaves the “experimental” sensibility of Complicite productions through a Broadway production of a play by Arthur Miller (i.e., something that is not “experimental” at all).
The performance begins with the house lights up, and the cast all walks onstage. John Lithgow starts talking to the audience as himself (and not Joe Keller), introducing us to the play and reading the opening stage directions. The cast walks off stage, the house lights dim, and the “play” begins. In these opening moments, McBurney calls our attention to the divide between our real world- the Schoenfeld Theater in 2008, and the artificial world of Miller’s play. This theme continues throughout the evening. The set consists of a square green lawn bordered on three sides by bare stage, and whenever a character runs off stage, they stop at the edge of the stage set, pause, and then walk calmly offstage. In other words, we actually see “Kate Keller” become Dianne Wiest. In this way, McBurney draws our attention to the boundaries of the Keller family’s world- their backyard- as if the Kellers were trying to contain their actions within their family.
But as much as he sets up these boundaries, McBurney also breaks them- several times during the play, company members enter the playing space- not as neighbors of the Kellers, but out of character, often en masse, as if they are members of “society” judging what they see on stage. The boundaries do not hold up- the actions of the Kellers have implications for their larger community- a community that includes their neighbors on the street, the actors in the play, and ultimately, the audience. Yes, this play is extremely relevant to current political and global events. But McBurney does not just let us rest by remarking to ourselves “wow, this play is timely!” He goes further and implicates us in these events, making for a much more thrilling evening.
And finally, through the use of projections and an incredible sound design (I wouldn’t be surprised about a Tony nom. here as well), McBurney knows how to craft an experience- not just something you watch, but something you feel. There was at least one point where I felt my heart race, my breath speed up, and then my hand went to my mouth- McBurney actually makes you gasp as every element suddenly comes together in a way that is both unexpected and inevitable. Go see All My Sons. It may be one of the most exciting performances you see in a long time.
(All My Sons plays a limited engagement through January 11, 2009 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th Street. Opening night is Thursday, October 16th. Show times are: Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday - Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are expensive: $116.50 down to $61.50. Standing room only tickets are available for $26.50 for sold out performances. And check out broadwaybox.com for discount codes. For more info visit allmysonsonbroadway.com.)