Morality Tale Boils Over with Talent in Hamilton’s Staging of “All My Sons”
By Dawn Watson
Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” was written at a time when honor and integrity were more than hashtags tacked at the end of social media posts. The words meant something.
It’s easy to see why the morality tale, based on a true story, was the playwright’s first major success. Dramatic and meaty, with deeply drawn characters and a textured and timeless plot, the profound message of “Sons” resonates long after the characters leave the stage. Performances of the must-see Guild Hall production in East Hampton, directed by Stephen Hamilton and starring Alec Baldwin and Laurie Metcalf, continue through Sunday, June 28.
The Tony Award-winning drama centers around the close-knit Keller family and the tragedies they must face in the aftermath of World War II. Joe Keller, played by Mr. Baldwin, has been exonerated for his company’s sale of faulty airplane parts to the Air Force but his partner is still languishing in prison for the crime that ended up killing 21 soldiers. Kate Keller, played by Ms. Metcalf, refuses to give up hope that her pilot son is still alive after being declared missing in action for the past three years. Chris Keller, played by Ryan Eggold, is home from the war and has set his sights on marrying his presumed-dead older brother Larry’s childhood sweetheart. Ann Deever, the love interest played by Caitlin McGee, is the family’s former next-door neighbor and daughter of Joe’s jailed business partner.
The story simmers along, reaching an intense slow boil in an increasingly peek-through-your fingers, can’t tear-your-tear-filled-eyes-away dramatic fashion. Fueled by Kate’s hope-tinged despair, Joe’s blustery efforts to downplay the catastrophic repercussions of the past and Chris’s optimistic efforts to set a happy course for the future, it’s the staged version of the inevitable plane crash that would result from an engine’s cracked cylinder head.
Best-known for his work in more than 50 films and television’s “30 Rock,” Mr. Baldwin is a truly talented, multiple award-winning actor. Most recently appearing on stage in Guild Hall’s production of “Equus” and Broadway’s “Orphans,” the East Ender spearheaded this undertaking of “All My Sons.”
It’s clear that Mr. Baldwin is passionate about the theater. During the show on Friday night, he was at his best during jocular Joe’s “hiya pal”-type moments and anger-filled diatribes. But, in this reviewer’s experience, his very best beat of all came during the curtain call. Looking out at the audience, a look of pure gratitude filled the actor’s eyes when he saw one person after the next get up out of their seat to give the cast a well-earned standing ovation. It was perhaps the most touching moment of a night filled with heartrending emotional highlights.
Ms. Metcalf, taking her third turn with this play having portrayed Kate previously in the National Theatre of London and Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles productions, absolutely shines in the role. Imminently watchable, it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off her when she’s on stage.
Buoyant yet sensible, and filled with post-war gumption, Ms. McGee’s Ann is so much more than the run-of-the-mill ingénue. Her textured portrayal of a complex character rang true. And Mr. Eggold captured the heart and soul of idealistic Chris, who carries the burden of the play’s moral center. Mastering this character might have been hard work but he wore the role well.
Another standout who must be mentioned is Tuck Milligan as neighbor Dr. Jim Bayless. From his roles in previous Guild Hall productions, such as “The Cripple of Inishmaan” (also directed by Mr. Hamilton) and “Equus,” the veteran actor never ever disappoints.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I were not to mention the incredible stage setup for this show. Bravo to scenic designer Michael Carnahan for creating one of the most stunning theatrical sets I’ve ever seen.
Upon walking into the theater, actor Bob Balaban put it best.
“It looks like they pulled out the back of the building and we’re looking at the houses right behind Guild Hall,” he said to me as we practically gaped at stage.
Of course you can’t put on a play of this caliber without top talent. Each and every person on stage and behind the scenes—from director Mr. Hamilton to first-timer Cashus Lee Muse—deserves every single standing ovation they are sure to get during this superlative show’s run.
“All My Sons” stages at Guild Hall in East Hampton Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., except for a matinee on Sunday, June 28, at 3 p.m. The theater will be dark on Wednesday, June 17. Tickets start at $40 and are on sale now at www.guildhall.org.