Review: “All My Sons” Revival Wins With a Diverse Cast, Broadway Return of Annette Bening

Melodramatic? Sure. Provocative? Definitely.

“There’s no jail here!” exclaims Kate Keller to interrupt a game her husband Joe plays with the neighborhood kids, whose foul language leads him to faux arrest them. Her declaration has multiple meanings because it turns out Joe himself has been evading punishment for some time now. He was charged with having sent out damaged airplane parts from his factory, which happened to have a lethal effect on some WWII pilots. Joe managed to get his business partner incarcerated for the crime, while getting off scot-free and retiring into a denial-prone family life full of minutiae and surface-y chitchat.

Further complicating things, Joe and Kate’s son Larry was a WWII pilot who has been MIA for three years. And to add one more layer of intrigue, the Kellers’ other son, Chris, is now dating Larry’s former girlfriend and they want to get married! And she happens to be the daughter of Joe’s incarcerated business partner! Melodramatic enough? Well, I haven’t even mentioned the 11 o’clock letter from the missing Larry that surfaces and nails the whole situation down for good!

And yet, in Arthur Miller’s second-produced play All My Sons (1947), the writing is so naturalistic and crisp that the plotting actually keeps you riveted. The new Broadway revival, directed by Jack O’Brien, does powerful things with the material, starting with Douglas W. Schmidt’s realistic backyard set (complete with an occasional eerie plane noise heard from overhead) and continuing into the acting by a tight ensemble, which includes three actors of color.

Benjamin Walker is good as the uneasy Chris, who grows in rage against his dad’s defenses of capitalist success at any cost, boiling up with a tense showdown. Annette Bening—who was last on Broadway over 30 years ago—is wonderful as Kate, not playing her as a dazed O’Neill heroine, but as a crusty, talky, desperate-to-connect woman without a filter, who’s clinging onto the idea that Larry is still alive, and for a chilling reason. And Tony-winning actor-author Tracy Letts effectively holds onto his lies until explosive happenings have him horrifically adding to the plot’s casualties. Letts is a powerhouse in the role, wrestling fiercely with his conscience until the very last moment.

If you think the Mueller Report exonerates Trump, you’ll believe Joe Keller is innocent, too—and in that case, this revival isn’t for you. Everyone else, dig in.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.