The Yale Dramatic Association opened its 2014–15 season on Thursday in the darkest of ways — with Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” an experimental production that combines elements of classic Greek tragedy with components of modern American theater. The result is a drama that forces its audience to both reflect upon society and question contemporary ideals.
The play — which is being performed in the Yale Repertory Theater until Oct. 4 — begins in the Midwestern backyard of an apparently ordinary family of three. But while the setting of the play doesn’t vary – each scene takes place in the same backyard – the interpersonal dynamics shift quickly, making it clear that the family isn’t ordinary at all, but incredibly troubled.
Joe Keller (Iason Togias ’16), father and head of the family, is infamous for having sold faulty engine parts to the Air Force during WWII, resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots. Although Keller convinced the courts of his innocence, his family and friends still struggle with the aftermath of his crime. And one of Keller’s sons has been missing in action for three years, while the other hopes to marry his brother’s former sweetheart, Ann Deever (Marina Horiates ’15). This budding relationship is especially troubling to Keller’s wife, who cannot come to terms with her son’s probable death. And Ann’s father — Keller’s business partner during the war — is in jail, doing time for Keller’s crime. While the play has its comic moments, its dark, twisted plot creates a mostly somber atmosphere throughout.
The minimalist set, consisting of a few lawn chairs and a porch, is framed by three rows of thin white curtains on each side of the stage. Because these curtains look like marble columns, the stage is a sort of Greek amphitheater. And the azure, orange and purple stage lights mimic natural sunlight, transporting the audience back to Ancient Athens.
Still, while the design is intentionally pre-modern, the play could not be more relevant in the conflicts and concerns it addresses. Togias in particular gives a brilliant performance, struggling between a need to repent and a desire to rationalize a horrible crime. Derek Braverman ’15 also gives an outstanding performance as Chris Keller, the son courting Ann. Chris, a lovable idealist, must question his own sense of morality when he hesitates to condemn his own father, though it is clearly the “right” thing to do.
A tale of love, loss, war and family, “All My Sons” is a phenomenal choice for the Dramat’s first production. Similar to the midterms that most of us are facing this upcoming week, “All My Sons” is depressing, somewhat stressful to experience, and in no way uplifting. Still, it raises many important societal issues that many lighter works could barely touch upon. And while the play is static, with an unchanging setting and mostly sedentary characters, each audience member (including myself) was completely mesmerized as the play approached its shocking conclusion.
It’s a sad experience, but it’s one that encourages contemplation, making it an experience worth having.