by Matthew Falduto
Iowa City - Tom Brokaw called them "The Greatest Generation." They were heroes who fought for our freedom. They sacrificed so that all of us could have a better life. They lived the American Dream. And all of that is true... to a point. One of the most powerful American plays, All My Sons, by Arthur Miller, paints a more realistic picture of this generation, illuminating the fact that like every generation, they were just people, some doing the best they could and some failing miserably. This play was the first success of Miller's career and, in many ways, it may be his best. We in Iowa City are very fortunate to have the talented artists at Riverside Theatre present this wonderful story for us.
Riverside's cast has many familiar faces, beginning with Ron Clark and Jody Hovland as Joe and Kate Keller, the parents of two grown children, Chris and Larry, who before the play begins went missing in World War II and is presumed dead. Hovland, in particular, creates a believable and heartbreaking character. Clinging to the belief that Larry is still alive, she imbues every action and every word with a palpable feeling of desperation that rises and falls depending on the moment. Clark is also strong throughout, but particularly at the end of the play when Joe's life begins to unravel. As he justifies his actions late in the play, it is only because Clark has carefully crafted a sympathetic character that we feel empathy for Joe.
Cristina Panfilio, who you may remember from Romeo and Juliet last summer, plays Ann Deever, the catalyst for the action of the show. She has excellent chemistry with all of the other actors, particularly Scot West, who portrays Chris.
West, as the surviving son, also crafts a character that allows for a big pay off during the play's dramatic ending. West's Chris is confident and self assured, certain he knows the answers to his life's major questions. Yet he seems almost too calm and too self assured and when all hell breaks loose late in the play, Chris' confidence cracks hard. Again, what's really wonderful about these portrayals is both Clark and West take us on a journey that rings true because of the echoes from early in the play.
This is also the strength of the writing. Miller's play is masterfully created; every word matters and every action builds. Director Mark Hunter has done a wonderful job bringing this story to stage. A simple and elegant set and excellent use of color and lighting set the moods of various scenes. Kudos to Scenic Designer Paul Sannerud and Lighting Designer Courtney Schmitz Watson.
Supporting characters are wonderful as well. Kristy Hartsgrove's portrayal of neighbor Sue Bayliss did remind me of her character Mrs. Van Daan from Riverside's The Diary of Ann Frank. Both characters had a certain amount of humor in them... until the one pivotal scene where Hartsgrove delivers the emotion. She's an expert at that pivot and it's clearly why she is chosen for these sorts of roles. Tim Budd as her husband is effortlessly good as usual. As neighbors Frank and Lydia Lubey, Kehry Lane and Heather Michele Lawler provide a nice contrast to the turmoil of the Keller home.
This is an excellent production from start to finish. The first weekend sold out, so I'd recommend you order your tickets soon. This is a powerful play, exquisitely rendered by an impressive cast and crew.