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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 56.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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American Players Theatre questions the American dream with All My Sons
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Sarah Day (left) was captivating.
Credit:Zane Williams

Spending an evening at American Players Theatre each summer is a beloved tradition for many, including me. I love arriving well before the show starts to have a leisurely dinner as the sky gradually goes dark. Recorded trumpets call the audience to their seats and then, as bats fly overhead and whippoorwill and crickets sing, the lights come up. This is what we’ve been waiting for.

Many of the characters in APT's production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons (through Sept. 28) are waiting, too. Kate Keller (Sarah Day) devotedly awaits the return of her son Larry, missing in action in World War II. Her son Chris (Marcus Truschinski) is looking for the right moment to tell Larry's high school sweetheart, Annie (Kelsey Brennan), that he now loves her. Joe (Jonathan Smoots), Chris's father and Kate's husband, dreads the moment when his secret will be found out.

All My Sons was Miller's first successful play. When it debuted in 1947, it surely resonated with audiences who, like the Keller family, were still mourning sons lost in the war. Returned soldiers who found that life has gone on without them must have understood Chris's shock that "nobody was changed at all" when he returned. The messages in this play aren't hard to decipher; it's a critique of the American dream.

On opening night, there were a few bumbled lines, but overall, the performances were professional, as I've come to expect from APT.

As Kate, Day was captivating. I spent the first act empathizing with her deep faith that her son Larry was still alive. Her devotion bordered on insanity -- keeping his shoes shined as if he might walk in any moment, for example -- but she made me hopeful that Larry might actually appear.

Truschinski's Chris was matter-of-fact and optimistic. Most of his lines were delivered without much passion, which I took more as a directorial choice than as success or failure on Truschinski's part. As Annie, Brennan added some liveliness to the cast and upped the onstage energy.

According to director William Brown's notes, this production is set in Wisconsin. But that setting isn't made clear in the show. A lush summer backyard after a storm filled the outdoor stage, but it could have been a scene from anywhere. The actors commit to Wisconsin accents, but some events (Annie's brother arriving from New York on a few hours' notice, for instance) don't quite make sense. For a play so securely grounded in time, I found the choice to set it in Wisconsin distracting.

My main disappointments were with the play itself. Miller's plot is complex and the writing savvy enough to foster a lively discussion on the drive home from Spring Green to Madison, but the characters didn't satisfy me. While their histories are revealed, no one changes much. There is some justice, but nobody seems all that different by the end of the play.

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