Miller drama `All My Sons' still speaks to today. Another opening, `Funny Feet,' is a burlesque of ballet
New York — All My Sons Play by Arthur Miller. Directed by Arvin Brown. Starring Richard Kiley. The Long Wharf Theatre has mounted a solidly based revival of ``All My Sons,'' Arthur Miller's 1947 prize-winning drama about familial ties and ethical responsibilities. The performance staged by Arvin Brown at the Golden Theatre exploits the calculated melodramatic climaxes of the work while responding to its leavening of comedy. With a fine cast headed by Richard Kiley, the production honors the work that, notwithstanding mixed notices, established Miller as a major new American dramatist and brought him his first success.
In the preface to his published plays, Miller wrote that the necessity of ``All My Sons'' was ``to prove the connections between the present and the past, between events and moral consequences, between the manifest and the hidden.'' The play's ``socialness,'' he said, lay in the fact that the crime that has been committed - shipping the faulty airplane parts that caused the deaths of 21 World War II pilots - had ``roots in a certain relationship of the individual to society, and of a certain indoctrination he embodies, which, if dominant, can mean a jungle existence for all of us no matter how high our buildings rise.''
Joe Keller not only committed the crime. He concealed the facts that would have convicted him and, instead, let his partner go to prison. The full consequences of his act come together within a few hours in the backyard of the Keller home. Gradually, over three acts, the author organizes the disclosures that will ultimately force Keller to recognize the extent of his social and ethical responsibility as well as the enormity of his crime.
Directly involved in the flow of consequences are Joe's wife, Kate (Joyce Ebert), with her obsession that their elder son, Larry, was not shot down three years previously in the Pacific; younger son Chris (Jamey Sheridan), who has accepted his brother's loss and has fallen in love with Ann Deever (Jayne Atkinson), whom he has invited to visit the Keller home. Ann was engaged to Larry and is the daughter of Keller's jailed partner.
As events close in, Mr. Kiley reveals the cunning, desperation and self-delusion underlying Joe Keller's joviality, bluster, and rough-hewn good fellowship. Miss Ebert's Kate, however irrational her hope, is at heart a woman of deep maternalism and loyalty. Mr. Sheridan endows Chris's idealism with sufficient toughness to survive the shattering disillusionment the author has prepared for him. Miss Atkinson gives a spirited yet sensitive performance as Ann. Christopher Curry expresses the filial outrage of George Deever, who arrives on the scene to avenge the injustice done his father.
Reflecting the days when playwrights were allowed the luxury of incidental characters, the cast includes the next-door Lubeys (Stephen Root and Dawn Didawick), the next-door Baylisses (Dan Desmond and Kit Flanagan), and Bert (Michael Maronna), the youngster Keller deputizes to play neighborhood policeman. Whatever their uses as atmospheric detail, these secondary characters also help contribute to the play's dramatic substance and movement.
Hugh Landwehr's clapboard dwelling seems somewhat too modest for the prosperous Kellers and lacks the fresh coat of paint specified in Miller's stage directions. Bill Walker's costumes recall the postwar era of the drama, and Ronald Wallace simulates the daylight, twilight, and semidarkness of the end-of-summer scenes. As to the relevance, in 1987, of a play emanating from World War II, one need think only of recent revelations concerning the tragic Challenger disaster. Funny Feet Dance entertainment conceived, directed, and choreographed by Bob Bowyer. Music by Gottschalk, Hamlisch, Barber, Sondheim, Brahms, LaBelle, Chopin, Handel, and others.
Ballet burlesquerie is the funny business of ``Funny Feet.'' The amusing new entertainment at the Lamb's Theatre probably belongs in the dance department. But a play reviewer may permissibly account for his press seats with a short report on Bob Bowyer's good-natured parodies of movement styles and extravagances.
For 90 uninterrupted minutes, Mr. Bowyer and his unflaggingly agile dancers perform a series of numbers which tell stories small and tall, take comic aim at assorted targets, and play merry havoc with the dancer's world. The results can be corny, campy, and broad. But the spirit of the enterprise and the virtuosity of the dancers carry the day. Whatever the subject, the company applies its fancy footwork to the Bowyer footwork fancies, whether balletic or ethnic, athletic or acrobatic. When it comes to contortions, these young men and women possess an extraordinary knack for tying themselves and each other in knots.
Bowyer's predilection for puns surfaces in titles like ``La Stampa de Feeta,'' a demented Spanish duet by Zane Rankin and Martha Connerton, and ``Faux Pas de Trois,'' in which Miss Connerton and Amy Flood give Mr. Rankin a hilariously exhausting workout. In ``Smile,'' paracomics Veronica Castonguay and Rankin save D. Kevin Rhind from suicide.
``Funny Feet'' exhibits a passing debt to Mummenschanz anthropomorphism and the reckless gymnastics of the Flying Karamazov Brothers. The show climaxes with ``The Big Ballet in the Sky,'' a celestial production number on the semi-grand scale, a triumph for lissome Sandra Chinn as the Dearly Departed, and a final fling for hard-working designers Lindsay W. Davis (scenery and costumes) and Arden Fingerhut (lighting). As indicated in the credits above, the recorded score is audaciously eclectic. ``Funny Feet'' is a funny feat.