A Brutal Family Secret Hidden in “All My Sons”
By Dawn Watson
Joe Keller is a decent guy, but he’s been living with a terrible secret. What he’s done, if found out, would devastate his entire family, particularly his wife, Kate. Keller’s actions have already laid waste to the lives of several others.
Thus is the setup of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” a modern-day morality play in the vein of the great Greek tragedies. The family drama, set in the aftermath of World War II, not only packs a brutal punch, it was the first of the iconic playwright’s many successes, which include “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible.”
The Tony Award-winner for 1947’s Best Authored Play and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award-winner is still relevant today, says Laurie Metcalf, who is co-starring with Alec Baldwin in Guild Hall’s production of the drama, staging through Sunday, June 28.
“It’s centered around the morals of a close-knit family, and the devastation that comes from what one of them does. It’s still totally timely,” Ms. Metcalf said last week after her first rehearsal on the stage at the John Drew Theater in East Hampton.
This run marks the third time the multiple Emmy Award-winning actress, best known for her role as Jackie on the long-running sitcom “Roseanne,” will step into the shoes of this particular character. The Tony Award nominee and Obie Award-winning actress—a co-founding member of Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theater who currently stars on television’s “The Big Bang Theory” and “Getting On”—earned rave reviews for her “astonishing” and “mesmerizing” performances in the role at the National Theatre in London and the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.
Taking another shot at Kate was a welcome opportunity, Ms. Metcalf says, especially as it affords her the opportunity to work with another extremely versatile actor.
“It’s a real luxury to be able to revisit this play after a number of years,” she says. “Especially since Alec is involved. He’s another big reason for me wanting to do it again.”
Director Stephen Hamilton, who has worked with Mr. Baldwin a number of times—as a director and as an actor—reports that he and the show’s star (the multiple Emmy, SAG, and Golden Globe winner plays Joe Keller) had been putting lists together of actresses who could handle the co-starring role. Once they learned that Ms. Metcalf was interested in playing Kate again, Mr. Baldwin pounced.
“I called Alec and he said, ‘Hamilton, we’d be lucky,’” the director mimicked in a very convincing throaty whisper imitation of Mr. Baldwin’s voice. “Then he called her, and she was in, and boom, that was it.”
Reprising the role has been illuminating for Ms. Metcalf, she says. The passage of time since she’s tackled it, first in 2001 in London and again in 2006 in Los Angeles, has caused her to look at the character through a slightly different lens this time around.
“Remnants of the play are still with me,” she reports, “but there’s a new outlook based on what I’ve lived through, which really does make different lines in the show resonate for me now.”
Of course working with a different cast, a new director, and previously untrodden stage (“Guild Hall has a beautiful theater, perfect for this play,” she says.) have also played roles in her approach to the drama.
“Just yesterday I was on the stage here for the first time with Alec, we were just marking it and learning the house,” she says. “We were blocking a 15-line scene at the end of Act I and it happened to fall in a way that I had never done it before.
“I decided to go against the foreboding, ominous feel and approach it instead as a wife trying to figure out ‘how do we get out of this place,’” she continues. “It’s a degree of difference, but it’s definitely something new.”
Aside from being drawn to the character, Ms. Metcalf also appreciates exceptional writing, such as what Mr. Miller has done with “All My Sons.” Her stage career has been defined by a reverence for the written word, as she’s chosen to work in productions written by “amazing playwrights,” including those penned by accomplished East Enders Terrence McNally, Edward Albee and Lanford Wilson.
“I am fascinated by writers, as they do something I could never do,” she says. “They hold the key to this form. I’m in awe of what they do.”
And though she says she’s happy just to enjoy the beach and spend her off-time with family and socializing with the “Sons” gang during her inaugural Hamptons visit, the star of stage and screen says that there is one thing that would definitely blow her mind. Getting to meet even one of the many notable East End playwrights would be major.
“That would be a rock and roll experience for me,” she says.
Ms. Metcalf says she hopes similar feelings will be evoked for audiences who come to see “All My Sons.”
“It’s a fantastic ride and an ensemble piece that is really something to see,” she says. “This drama is a pressure cooker. And once the lid comes off, there’s no going back.”
“All My Sons” stages at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall in East Hampton Tuesdays through Sundays, through June 28. Written by Arthur Miller and starring Alec Baldwin and Laurie Metcalf, the drama is directed by Stephen Hamilton. Tickets start at $40. For additional information and reservations, visit www.GuildHall.org.