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Theater Review

A Grandfatherly Performance Undercuts 'All My Sons'

As a wartime industrialist with blood on his hands, Daniel J. Travanti isn't up to the level of his fellow cast members in the Arthur Miller drama.

July 29, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO--At the heart of "All My Sons" is one of playwright Arthur Miller's classic self-deceiving American males: Joe Keller, owner of a prosperous machine shop who made a bundle during World War II by sidestepping scandal and personal responsibility.

Keller fashions himself a realist, not like his idealistic son Chris, or his never-made-a-buck-in-her-life wife, Kate.

In business, he reasons, everybody cuts corners; when the big companies do it, it's overlooked, but when the small guy does it, he's crucified. With grit and one year of night school, he worked his way to the top and he's proud of it.

Self-pitying and self-congratulatory, Keller is the touchstone for all the other characters in this journey toward tragic self-discovery.

Which explains why the Old Globe Theatre's production of "All My Sons," which opened Saturday, is so disappointing.

Daniel J. Travanti as Keller is so off the mark that a slew of marvelous performances by other cast members--particularly Robin Pearson Rose as Kate--are badly undercut.

The text says Keller is 61, but Travanti, best known as Capt. Furillo on "Hill Street Blues," insists on playing him more like 81.

His idea of playing an old man is to affect a stuffy, nasal voice and continually push out his upper lip with his tongue. A role that needs a Lee J. Cobb lion-in-winter instead gets George Burns-like shtick.

As a result, confrontation scenes that should be taut with family tension go slack and messy.

By the time Keller has his physical showdown with Chris--played with just the right tone of youthful anguish by Brian Hutchison--the damage has been done.

By comparison, Rose's Kate is so agonized, so fervent in her belief that her son Larry, a pilot lost during World War II, will someday return, that her pain is palpable.

Kate knows about her husband's role in sending defective airplane parts to the military. The truth is unbearable, so she covers it with a fiction about Larry's certain return.

Caren Browning as the catty but truth-telling doctor's wife and Deborah Annette Heinig as the next-door neighbor who settled for second choice after her true love was drafted are excellent.

And Melinda Page Hamilton as Ann Deever, who was Larry's girl but now has fallen in love with Chris, is sweet, sexy and vulnerable.

Kate demands that Ann wait for Larry's return.

"Your brother is alive, because if he's dead, your father killed him," she tells Chris as your blood freezes at the horror of it.

"All My Sons," written by Arthur Miller, at the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, through Aug. 31. Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m. $25-$45. (619) 239-2255. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Russ Anderson...Dr. Bayless

Caren Browning...Sue Bayless

Melinda Page Hamilton...Ann Deever

Deborah Annette Heinig...Lydia

Brian Hutchison...Chris Keller

Lucas Caleb Rooney...Frank

Robin Pearson Rose...Kate Keller

Javen Tanner...George Deever

Daniel J. Travanti...Joe Keller

Directed by Richard Seer, costume designer Charlotte Shields, sound designer Paul Peterson, scenic designer David Ledsinger, lighting designer Trevor Norton, stage manager Joel Rosen.

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