The Original Twenty-One Pilots, A Deeply Buried Secret
Review of the STC winter drama <i>All My Sons</i>.
Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Stuyvesant Theater Community’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic play, “All My Sons,” directed by senior Mika Simoncelli, sophomore Emily Rubinstein, and freshman Clara Yuste, opens on Joe Keller (senior Alex Whittington) sitting in a lawn chair, reading the newspaper in front of a blue house with yellow windows, a simple white fence, and flowers on the windowsill. The picture-perfect suburban house conjures up the familiarity of the American Dream. But we soon discover that the people inside that house, two parents, their son, and the fiancée of their son who went missing in the war, are anything but serene. They’re each broken, keeping secrets that they’re either too ashamed of or too disturbed by to tell even those who are closest to them.
Joe’s son Larry, a pilot in the war, has been missing for three years, leaving behind a broken family and distraught fiancée. Joe has to suffer through the consequences of the choices he made in order to keep his business running and to make money for his family, even if those choices mean he is responsible for the deaths of 21 pilots, and that somehow, his son could have been one of them.
From the opening moment, Whittington remains brilliantly committed to his role as Joe, an aging suburban businessman with a dark secret. Sophomore Zeynep Bromberg is lively and honest as Joe’s wife, Kate Keller. Kate refuses to believe that Larry is dead, because she knows that if he is, it’s Joe’s fault, and she’s incapable of accepting the fact that a father can kill his own son.
Between a series of small panic attacks and a lot of social manipulation, Kate struggles to prevent Larry’s beautiful fiancée Ann Deever (sophomore Victoria Wong) from marrying her living son Chris (senior Garrett Hall), knowing that their marriage would force her to accept the unthinkable. Kate grasps at Larry’s memory from the people around her, even believing her neighbor Frank Lubey’s (senior Travis Tyson) “horoscope” for Larry proves that he must still be alive somewhere. Bromberg reveals Kate’s pain when she says, of other mothers like her, “They don’t say it on the radio, but I’m sure that in the dark of night they’re still waiting for their sons.”
The play’s heavy-handed moralizing provides the thread of the plot. While Kate believes Larry must be alive because it’s immoral for a father to have killed his own son, Joe justifies his actions and lies with his own moral compass, saying that nothing in the world is bigger or more important than the relationship between father and son. Therefore, nothing should compromise his relationship with Chris.
Chris, meanwhile, clearly thinks it wrong to disrespect or distance oneself from one’s parents, but right to marry someone that you love, regardless of the circumstances. That idea goes head-to-head with Kate’s belief that a fiancée should wait for her fiancé unconditionally if he goes missing, and that she should certainly not marry his brother.
The supporting roles did their part to give the heavy storyline life and energy. Beginning with her funny, energetic entrance as eight-year-old Bert, sophomore Sara Stebbins provided comedic relief. An added laugh came when Ann commented that Frank was losing his hair, because Travis Tyson, with his voluminous head of hair, was playing the part.
Hall and Wong’s chemistry as Chris and Ann, who become engaged during the play without Kate’s knowledge or Joe’s enthusiasm, provided a framework for most of the scenes, and their kiss drew a substantial reaction from the audience. The direction skillfully brought to light the recognizable story of young love amid the backdrop of a serious setting.
The cast glided effortlessly through the minor sound inconsistencies typical of student productions, displaying true professionalism. The four neighbors, often emerging from opposite sides of the stage throughout the play, added to the almost eerie American dream illusion.
On one side of the house, Sue Bayliss (freshman Mimi Gillies) agonizes over her husband’s (sophomore Michael Dekhtyar) desire to sacrifice his career as a doctor to devote his life to scientific research. Much like her neighbor Kate, she shifts abruptly from the typical well-mannered suburban housewife to someone frighteningly controlling and manipulative. Her unbridled desperation to keep her husband Jim in a financially stable career at the cost of his dreams, and the fact that she is willing to force Ann to make Chris leave town in order to prevent him from inspiring Jim too much suggest that she, like Joe, harbors a greedy obsession with money and success.
Adding to the grim undertone of the play is the tree stump placed to one side of the Kellers’ lawn. It is, we find out early on in the play, all that remains of a tree planted in Larry’s memory. It blew down in a storm the previous night—the very night that Ann came to visit. Kate sees that as a cosmic sign that Larry is still out there somewhere, alive and trying to come home. The stump spurs her determination to keep any of her friends and family members from forgetting about Larry or treating him as dead. She slips into a sort of mania, constantly directing thinly-veiled insults and tests at Annie, to Chris’s annoyance.
The idea of an ordinary man accidentally killing his own son by shipping out defective plane parts is surreal. Yet the way it destroys the lives of a bunch of ordinary people feels all too real and haunting, even today.
Chris, the dreamer craving true love and inspiration, learns to be practical. The sweet, innocent housewife, starts losing her mind. The man who killed 21 innocent young men wove a web of lies among the people closest to him and put his business partner in prison, all to live an ideal, stable life alongside his family. The man who deludes himself into thinking that he was innocent—that his remarkably selfish actions were justified—walks only feet away from his wife, son, and twice soon-to-be daughter-in-law and puts a bullet in his own head.
“All My Sons” is a challenging play to take on. It deals with grave themes and tackles profound ideas surrounding the innate evil in humanity through subtle interactions between characters. Only actors who have committed themselves to their parts, and to the story itself, can do the play justice, and STC successfully tackled the challenges of this material, building an engaging, moving performance.