It’s Miller Time (Again)

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:10

    ARTHUR MILLER, PILLAR of American post–World War II playwriting, poet of naturalism who long sought an American equivalent to Greek tragedy, interpreted by Brecht? Who’d dare attempt it? For the Broadway revival of All My Sons,Simon McBurney of the acclaimed Complicité theater company, that’s who. Amazingly, it works.

    The actors enter en masse, and star John Lithgow announces, script in hand, the play’s name and the initial stage directions.There’s signage (a Brecht hallmark), including moving projections by Finn Ross that aren’t just visually arresting but remove any complacency from your system.

    Perhaps it’s jarring or even strange to notice the actors sitting to the sides of the action when not in a scene, or set and costumes, designed by Tom Pye, deliberately stuffed with symbolism. But McBurney’s view is comprehensive, deep as it is wide, and its effects and residue generate some cauterizing moments.

    But let’s also be honest: No one is paying Broadway prices for a Brecht experiment. All My Sons was Miller’s breakthrough play, written right before Death of a Salesman, and this story of an airplane-parts manufacturer who passiveaggressively permitted defective cylinders be shipped, killing 21 flymen and perhaps his own son, and who allowed his business partner to be convicted for the crime, is a tight morality play with thriller aspects.

    No, the reason people will go is how the four key roles are cast. As Joe, the aging manufacturer whose guilt is submerged beneath bravado, Lithgow is transfixing. As his wife, Kate, unable to acknowledge their eldest son is dead, Dianne Weist is a psychological thrashing machine—furious and sweet, sarcastic and beneficent.The couple’s younger, more idealistic son, Chris, played with vivacity, wit and mood by Patrick Wilson, worships Joe.Yet three years after the death of the older son, Chris is boldly courting his brother’s girl, Ann, who isn’t played by Katie Holmes so much as she is heaved, shouted and hoisted around.

    Holmes has little stage experience and it shows. I didn’t say she lacks talent: It’s an on-stage security, an ability to dwell in dark places, not browse through them, that she really needs.

    Brecht is known for his “alienation effect,” and in that sense, Holmes certainly keeps it all at mind’s length, estranged from McBurney’s eye-opening sojourn into the soul of American tragedy. Fortunately there are three majestic pillars— more if you count the phenomenal supporting cast—to prop it up.

    > All My Sons

    Through Jan. 11, Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St. (betw. B’way & 8th Ave.), 212-239- 6200; $61.50-$116.50.