Phase Eight Theatre Company Review
A Dual Critics Review by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
This moving theatrical classic traces the downfall of two Midwestern families four years after the end of World War II. The fathers, Joe Keller and Steve Deever, were neighbors and business partners who thrived during the war while manufacturing parts for military planes. When the war effort intensified, production quotas increased while quality standards decreased and they began shipping defective parts, which led to the death of twenty-one American pilots. After charges were brought against them, Deever went to prison. Keller was exonerated; afterward, he became successful as the proprietor of a small business he established.
The play was directed by JaMario Stills, a founding member of Phase Eight, an ensemble based theatre company. The cast, under his direction, was line perfect.
As the play opened we learned that Larry, the Keller’s oldest son, was a pilot during the war who was reported missing in action after his disappearance during a bombing raid. While his father, his brother, and his past friends are convinced he is dead, Kate, his mother believes with a delusional intensity that he remains alive. Chris, Keller’s surviving son, is exceptionally portrayed by Hays Jacobs, a very versatile actor indeed. We saw him previously as the shy teenager Jamie in Phase Eight’s “Hot L Baltimore,” and as Roy Cohen in Players by the Sea’s “Angels in America.” Chris works at his father’s firm and hopes to marry Ann Deever, who is the daughter of the incarcerated Steve Deever, and the previous fiancée of Larry, his missing brother. Ann is portrayed by Miles Laura Para, whom we have seen in several previous plays including “Is He Dead? “ in 2012 at Theatre Jacksonville. Both Joe’s wife Kate and Ann’s brother George are opposed to the marriage.
The well-written script focuses on both the lingering consequences of the past crime and the characters’ entanglements, leading to a strong emotional climax. The cast excellently captured these complex characters, and as time progressed, they were living the lives created in another era by Miller.
One of the strongest scenes took place between James Bilderback as Joe Keller as he and his son Chris attempted to come to terms with blame and guilt. Of note, Mr. Bilderback is a polished comedic actor, as seen in his previous appearances in “Pride and Prejudice” and “Figaro,” staged by Theatre Jacksonville.
Joe’s wife Kate appeared to be out of touch with reality, clinging to her insistence that her son Larry would be returning home in the near future. Her portrayal by Olivia Grace Chernyshev is persuasive; we last saw Chernyshev in “Big River” at the Alhambra.Samuel Fisher appeared as George Deever, a successful New York lawyer who has come home to pursue the truth related to his father’s responsibility for the pilots’ death and to prevent Ann’s marriage to Chris. His confrontation scene with the family was yet another of the explosive scenes in this drama. Mr. Fisher, a fine actor, is also very much in demand as a director throughout Jacksonville.
Living next door is the Bayliss family. Jim (T. James Belich) is a small town doctor who would rather be doing medical research but is dissuaded by Sue (Deanna McNeely), his strong-willed wife. Sue and Ann came together in an excellent scene which focused on Joe’s role in the commission of the crime. Rounding out the cast are neighbors Lydia (Jeannette Schock) and Frank Lubey (Derick Grant), who refers to a horoscope to support Kate’s dysfunctional denial of the death of her son.
We are leaving out comments related to the ending in case you have never seen the play or related 1948 film with Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster.
Costumes were by the cast members, with the guidance of Heather Moore, who also helped design the set with Adam Groff. The play took place in the late 40s, and most of the clothing was subdued. The setting was the backyard of Joe’s home and was depicted simply with wooden planks in the background and lawn furniture.
“All My Sons” is timely because it confronts the issues of ethics and responsibility which you will find, if you read today’s newspapers, occupies our headlines as much as it did those of the 1940s. Greed during wartime continues.
“All My Sons” was Arthur Miller’s first successful play. He went on to write the classic “A View from the Bridge,” “The Crucible,“ and “The Death of a Salesman” (which was written in just six weeks). Thanks go to Phase Eight for a stimulating evening of theatre.
Next up for this group during April 7 – 9 is “On Purpose,” by Ebony Payne-English. The location will be announced at a later date: see their Facebook page “Phase Eight Theatre Company” for additional information.