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STAGE REVIEW

'Sons' Also Rises

Arthur Miller's tale of American business ethics resonates with timeliness on its 50th anniversary.

September 11, 1997|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," his first Broadway hit, and the play is aging magnificently.

Seeing two productions in the past two years leads one to conclude that this often-underrated drama might be Miller at his finest. As he unpeeled the Keller family's secrets, Miller probed sharply into the ethics of American commerce, but he did it without dehumanizing the businessman at the heart of his play. He also did it with breathtaking economy--compared to many of the other plays that are considered classics of American realism, this one moves like a hurricane.

Jules Aaron's staging for an International City Theatre production at the Long Beach Center Theater is immensely moving but lasts little more than two hours.

Paul Lukather plays Joe Keller, the minor-league industrialist whose factory shipped out cracked cylinder heads during World War II, resulting in the deaths of 21 American pilots. Joe was exonerated on appeal, with blame shifted to an underling and ex-neighbor, who's now in prison.

Lukather has the perfect look: an aging American dinosaur, with eyes that suggest the trouble he's seen. Last Saturday, Lukather wasn't secure with all of his lines. This presumably will improve as the run continues. Meantime, it's possible to rationalize a little fumbling of lines, for Joe himself is beginning to crack as the play goes on.

Joe's wife, Kate, refuses to believe that their first son was killed in the war--no body was found. Barbara Tarbuck would be a formidable advocate for any notion, and her defense of her son's memory is ferocious. But she may have met her match in Ann, her son's former girlfriend, who now wants to move on to the second son, Chris. Blake Lindsley's Ann eventually proves to be as smashing as she looks in Diana Eden's '40s outfits.

You can tell that Simon Billig's Chris has been through the war--even though he has now taken a job with the old man, he isn't afraid to stake his own claim to independence. But despite his self-assurance, Chris too begins to break down, and Billig gets all the juice out of his character's passions.

The premature graying of Joseph Fuqua's hair as Ann's brother George looks a bit contrived, but Fuqua himself strikes a careful balance between wariness and willingness to be sucked into nostalgia. Minor roles are played to perfection.

All of the turmoil unfolds in a placid and sunny backyard (a bit too sunny in one early evening scene) that fills up the theater's sharp thrust stage. The Bradley Kaye-designed two-story house looms at the back.

Does the play resonate today? Well, does it take a village to raise a child? Are other people's children your concern? No matter how you answer that question, Miller's powerful reply is worth your consideration.

BE THERE

"All My Sons," Center Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 28. $28. (562) 938-4128. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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