Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Review: All My Sons

Gate Theatre, Dublin

Arthur Miller's play, 'All My Sons', which opened at the Gate Theatre on Tuesday night, surpassed all my expectations in a production of great power, simplicity and purity.

It is not a simple play, nor is it an allegory, but a direct story of wickedness and shame. Its setting is distant and remote: the wartime production of faulty aircraft cylinders in small-town America in the 1940s, causing deaths all the community knew about.

But its relevance is universal, all too easily to be construed with the way Ireland has been betrayed by political greed and corruption in recent years.

The fine cast is led by Len Cariou as Joe Keller, the guilty figure with blood on his hands and concealment of what he did in his heart. Complicit with him, in the most complex part in the play, is his wife, Kate, acted with great judgment by Barbara Brennan. She conceals behind fey imaginings full knowledge of Joe's murderous responsibility. What she does not know is that he caused the death of the son she believes will still return from the war.

Her surviving son, Chris, played by Garrett Lombard, challenges his parents' guilt by declaring his intention of marrying his brother's girlfriend. On this pivot of action all their lives unravel. The solid worth and determination of the girl, reinforced by inner knowledge of the full story of betrayal, is delivered in a way that enhances Miller's intentions beyond what I have experienced before. It is part of the 'surpassing of expectation' that gives to the action new revelations about the depths of iniquity in the story.

Donna Dent and Mark O'Regan, as a neighbouring couple, the Baylisses, play out well the role of knowing witnesses as do Ronan Leahy and Mary Kelly, as the Lubeys, all of them representing a prying neighbourhood waiting for a truly tragic catharsis.

The single setting for the play, with its clapboard house and almost claustrophobic garden, seems closed in on the audience, dragging them into the heart of the play's action and holding them, in the last scene, quite spellbound. 'All My Sons' is an electrifying experience, faithful to its time, and eternal, as all good theatre should be.