Before the lights go up on Praxis Stage’s season opener—a production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons— theatergoers shuffling to their seats are subjected to a few jazz standards from the ’30s and ’40s. “If it’s a crime then I’m guilty, guilty of loving you,” a warbling voice admits from a speaker mounted in the corner. A few minutes later, another crooner asks, “What can I do? What can I say? After I’ve taken the blame?” If a bit on the nose, the music prepares us for what’s to come: an argumentative family drama confronting the losses and the spoils of war.
It’s a few years after V-day. The boys are back home, the factories are making dishwashers and pressure cookers again, and everyone is trying to get back to living. The Kellers really are “in the money,” enjoying the wealth they’ve gained from the family’s productive factory.
Of course, though, not all is right with the Keller family. Their son Larry never came home from the war, and Kate Keller, played by a sympathetic and dynamic Sharon Mason, has never accepted the death of her oldest boy, still waiting on the day when he will return a hero. Joe Keller, the family’s patriarch, has his own demons. Accused of knowingly shipping damaged airplane parts from his factory after the death of 21 pilots from defective cylinder heads, he is determined to keep up the ruse of innocence after having blamed the faulty equipment on his business partner and former next-door neighbor Steve Deever. While Joe, played by Praxis founder Daniel Boudreau, basks in the morning sun reading a newspaper at the start of the play, Deever sits in jail.
Boudreau’s performance is rightly impressive and forceful. With a swaggering gait, a booming voice and squinting eyes, he captures the audacity of a guilty man staring the world in the face and laughing that it might dare to question him.The courts have put their trust in the man whose version of the truth was more forceful, and that—in Keller’s mind—is just fine.
In this production, director Joe Juknievich has decided to cast black actors Lorna Lowe and Dominic Carter to play Deever’s children, Ann and George. When two men get blamed for the same thing, the play argues, the black man is the one who gets locked up for it regardless of the truth.
If there is any justice in the play, it seems to be that even a family well-practiced in its own lies cannot hold out forever. Praxis Stage’s production is most successful near the end, when it’s all anguish, yelling, tears, and a well-staged crash into a wicker lawn table. One wishes, however, there had not been quite as much yelling in the previous scenes.
Before the ultimate unraveling of the family, Praxis’s production often feels rushed and overanimated—escalating headfirst toward a tragic conclusion that’s inevitable not because it’s earned but because the script demands it. The pacing of Juknievich’s production sometimes comes off as an anxiousness to get on to the next scene, and the love scenes between Chris (Casey Preston) and Ann feel particularly unconvincing despite their Romeo and Juliet potential. Their romance is one chance to take a breath in an otherwise tense and argumentative play, and, though doomed, it would have served the production to settle into a easier depiction of love.
The rushed quality of certain scenes, however, sometimes lent a wanted uneasiness to the family’s attempts to seem normal. Like scarfing down a meal as fast as possible for fear of never eating again, the Kellers push on awkwardly to the next scene. If they don’t hurry, someone will start asking questions.
In Chelsea, where the play is being staged, planes passing to and from Logan fly low, their engine’s roar filling the streets every few minutes. Leaving the theater, one such plane rattled ahead—a perfect coda more effective than any jazz standard.
ALL MY SONS. THROUGH 10.27 AT PRAXIS STAGE AT CHELSEA THEATRE WORKS, 189 WINNISIMMET ST., CHELSEA. PRAXISSTAGE.COM