Mark Schneider, who directs Camelot Theatre's new production of "All My Sons" by Arthur Miller, has compared Miller's characters to the artwork of New York-born German painter Lyonel Feininger. This is an interesting observation, to be sure; Feininger's work is jarring, operates in both the seen and the unseen, and ultimately juxtaposes the tame, pastoral surface of the American experience with an aggressive and somewhat disturbing visual theme that startles the viewer with prismatic windows into other dimensions.
The characters in "All My Sons" carry similar dichotomies. Cheerful, neighborly and charismatic on the surface of things — where everything is about chummy discussions on vegetable gardens and offers of grape drink to parched guests — Miller's characters are, of course, gliding blithely through an epidemic of denial, self-loathing, blame, generational dynamics and overall angst.
As Joe Keller, the play's central character, Peter Alzado is blissful to watch. A survivor of the Manhattan theater scene with some 125 plays to his credit, Alzado is made for this kind of meaty, traditional, male role. His Joe is a man filled with bravado and easy charm, but hides a tragic secret. Joe has built up a core group of enablers around him, including his wife, son and neighbors, all of whom are either turning a blind eye to the ugly truth of his business successes, or are working hard to blithely deny the reason behind them. Gwen Overland, as Joe's wife, Kate, is a twitching wreck of a creature, always on full alert for any allusion that might make her husband look bad.
Both Alzado and Overland are long-time professionals with Actors Equity credentials, and it shows; their nuanced performances are the bedrock of this production, and they can teach their fellow cast members a thing or two about acting for the stage. Overland's performance is particularly heartbreaking and worthy of your deeper attention.
Playing the couples son, Chris Keller — a young military man recently back from the war — Dayvin Turchiano is excellent, all square-jawed mendacity and alpha male tension. In the scenes where he faces down his father, Turchiano goes head-to-head with the formidable Alzado and holds his own. Playing Keller's fiancee, Ann, is Australian transplant Emanuelle Bains, in her first appearance at Camelot — a stellar new performer for the company, with obvious chops and an intoxicating natural beauty that floats over the assembled patrons like a sweet breeze headed up from Bondi Beach. Bains's Ann is a woman who knows how to make a ruthless compromise. Underneath her ingenue-like banality is a tough operator who knows how to feather her own nest.
There are several neighbors who make appearances throughout the show, each making a quality contribution to the overall action: Brianna Gowland, Dan Hanvey and Bhodi Johnson all do good work in their various supporting roles. Richard Heller is particularly strong as Jim Bayliss, the Keller's next door neighbor who is as adept as Joe is when it comes to ducking responsibility, playing it up as another benevolent patriarch.
As Jim's wife, Sue, Mig Windows makes her debut at Camelot as a sort of hard-boiled postwar hausfrau — think Alice from the Honeymooners with a bit of Betty Bacall thrown in for good measure. Window's take on a prying, pessimistic small-town shrew is pitch perfect. In another great performance, Camelot regular Erny Rosales gives a strong showing as George Deever, a successful New York lawyer and World War II veteran who returns to town in a rage to expose the long-hidden conspiracy on which the core drama of the play is founded.
The decision to mount a strong American meat and potatoes play like "All My Sons" is a good one on the part of the Camelot leadership, especially with such a seasoned group of thespians ensuring a palatable result. The strength of the two main actors, combined with the professionalism and enthusiasm of the ensemble cast, makes for a delicious night of theater. The tension all builds to a mighty climax, and the result is a production that doesn't disappoint. You can't really go wrong with Arthur Miller, but this group takes on a great play and makes it their own. See "All My Sons" — it won't disappoint.
"All My Sons" by Arthur Miller plays at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave. in Talent, through Nov. 12.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Nov. 2: Story updated to correct spelling of Hanvey.)