Creeping time and passing fashion have not yet diminished Arthur Miller's All My Sons. Though the play's writing style and social context are somewhat dated, its intriguing characters and powerful story are enough to sustain an evening of interesting theater, as the new pro-am collaboration at Troutt Theater attests.
It's 1947, and a manufacturer watches the co-owner of his machinery plant go to jail for shoddy business practices that are ultimately responsible for deaths in the war just ended. As you would expect given the play's post-World War II milieu, Miller's women get treated in routinely sexist fashion, with marriage their automatic fate — achieving anything else is considered a failure, or at least a curiosity. That antiquated attitude drives the lead-up to the play's crux, but it ultimately takes a backseat as the more essential themes of family, money, security and integrity come to the fore.
Bill Feehely never looked so comfortably uncomfortable in a role as he does portraying Joe Keller, middle-American paterfamilias with a dark secret and submerged guilt, both of which he seeks to keep under wraps while his son attempts to woo the daughter of his imprisoned ex-partner. Cynthia Tucker is Kate Keller, Joe's wife, still mourning her MIA son, Larry, who she insists is alive, when common sense tells everyone else he isn't. Like her husband, Kate is burdened with gloom, and has even more trouble hiding it than he does.
The confluence of war, death and destroyed reputations forms an onrushing stream of tragedy. Though occasionally clumsy, the compelling story line hurdles inexorably toward its conclusion. The two main players are supported adequately by student actors from Belmont University, including Zack McCann as confused but combative son Chris Keller, and also Jordan Parkyn as George Deever, whose late entrance as the embittered son of Joe's partner stirs the plot immeasurably.
More problematic is Kyla Ledes as Ann Deever, formerly romantically involved with the missing Larry Keller and now involved with Chris — and inconveniently trapped by all the inter-family suspicions. Ledes poses demurely but awkwardly in the role, her line readings rather tepid, her presence unsure. She's not helped much by the playwright, who seems unwilling to invest the character with much power. And that goes for director Don Griffiths as well.
Otherwise, Griffiths' staging is well thought out, though occasionally actors stand like sticks and opportunities for more natural human interaction are missed. That said, All My Sons is on some level an epic, and Griffiths brings it all home in two agreeable hours, offering ample space for his performers to render their speeches effectively, and with the necessary emotion.
There's also a deus ex machina in the form of a letter (boo!), not to mention a sudden conclusion whose function as dramatic remedy may be debatable. Still, All My Sons provides some memorable lines, a brooding, tension-filled plot and hot-button confrontations — plus Feehely, who's exciting to watch when he explodes.
Swing! is the kind of musical that commands respect, if for no other reason than the sheer energy of its cast of singers and dancers. Director/choreographer Kate Adams-Johnson stages this revue with verve and consistency, and her 18 players commit fully to the variations on the 1930s and '40s "swing" style of dance, with jitterbugging and a little tap-dancing thrown in for good measure. Big group numbers dominate, but the mostly Tin Pan Alley score also includes more intimate favorites — "Skylark," "I'll Be Seeing You," etc. — that draw equally upon the vocal skills of the versatile ensemble, which features slinky dancer Faith Kelm, soloists Stephanie Benton and Amy Farrell, plus a game crew of male singers and hoofers who span a few decades and rise stalwartly to the physical challenge.
Yet for all the admiration that the dancing inspires, it's readily trumped by the music, directed and conducted by the fantastic Ginger Newman, who leads a totally in-the-pocket sextet of hep cats, then, in the middle of Act 2, turns around and lays her own righteous vocal version of "Blues in the Night" on an unsuspecting but totally gratified audience. Meanwhile, session player Barry Green's hot trombone licks commanded attention at last Sunday's sold-out matinee.
Linda Cameron-Bayer's costumes include glitzy evening gowns and army uniforms that help evoke both the World War II period and the requisite nightclub feel.
Swing! is appealing entertainment, most likely for the older crowd, but also for people of any age who dig cool music and appreciate bodies in motion. The show continues through Feb. 28 at the Senior Center for the Arts in Donelson.
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