Theater review: 'All My Sons' at the Matrix
Arthur Miller wrote perceptively about family, especially the family we call America. Layering abstraction atop realism, he worked symbols and multilevel meanings into lifelike dramas, guiding audiences along multiple avenues of insight.
This multiplicity is richly evident in Miller's 1947 breakthrough play, "All My Sons," particularly when approached with as much alertness to nuance as producer Joseph Stern, director Cameron Watson and 10 intuitive actors bring to their presentation at the Matrix Theatre. Problem is, this production overthinks an awful lot, tying ideas into such knots that audience members have a hard time straightening out the intended meanings.
At the Matrix, Joe Keller, an up-by-his-bootstraps manufacturer, is African American and Kate, his plain-spoken, practical wife, is white. Their once-close neighbors, now estranged and living far away, are Asian American. This may better reflect the America of 2011 and may open additional alleyways of meaning, but the approach is at odds with itself, because in all other ways the production remains clothed in 1947, when anti-miscegenation laws and other forms of segregation still blanketed America. What's more, some of the alleyways prove tricky to navigate, including a deprecatory use of the word "yellow" that acquires a newly racialized connotation that no one on stage seems to realize.
Emotionally, though, this production is a gut-puncher. The laughing, untroubled Joe we meet at the beginning deflates before our eyes as circumstances peel away self-deceptions about defective items his company shipped to fulfill a war contract. Alex Morris plays it with aching humanity. As Kate, the ever-amazing Anne Gee Byrd is at once sharp and commanding, frayed and fragile. Similarly gripping are A.K. Murtadha and Linda Park as the next generation, on the verge of slipping into another cycle of incremental compromise and deepening self-interest.
— Daryl H. Miller
"All My Sons," Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends. Dec. 18. $25. (323) 960-7773 or www.matrixtheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Photo: From left, Linda Park, A.K. Murtadha, Alex Morris and Anne Gee Byrd in "All My Sons" at the Matrix Theatre. Credit: Karen Bellone.