Aaron Lugo and Allison MacDonald in "All My Sons." Photograph by Daren Scott
Having opened its 35th season earlier this year with a rousing production of the parodic musical Xanadu, Chula Vista’s OnStage Playhouse goes in a very different direction with Arthur Miller’s sobering family drama All My Sons. This staging is less memorable than that of Xanadu, but the enduring acuity of Miller’s play ultimately carries the day.
OnStage is presenting All My Sons, directed by James P. Darvas, in significantly remodeled confines, including more comfortable seats (imported, OnStage aristic director Teri Brown confided, all the way from Ohio). The cozy Midwest backyard setting, designed by Jadelin Boldenow, extends white picket fence and all practically to the first row of seats, guaranteeing that anyone in any of the three rows is close to the drama.
Drama it is, too, in this play, which evolves proddingly but delivers a gut punch before it is through. The now-on-hiatus Intrepid Theatre Company mounted a tremendous All My Sons four years ago and was rightly honored by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle for Outstanding Dramatic Production for that calendar year. OnStage’s All My Sons is much more rapidly paced than Intrepid’s, clocking in at less than two hours (though it’s a three-act play), and at times it seems to rush through Miller’s piquant dialogue. While stagings of All My Sons can be overly ponderous, this one should be slowed down just a tad.
The story concerns the household of Joe and Kate Keller in the post-wartime late’40s. Kate (beautifully played here by Allison MacDonald) longs for the return of her missing son, Larry, whom she fiercely believes will return to her despite everyone else’s resigned belief that he was killed in the war. Her denial, however, pales beside that of Joe (Mark Solz, stiff in Act One, more aptly explosive later), who harbors a deadly “secret” that almost everyone already knows. Tensions mount as the Kellers’ surviving son, Chris (Aaron Lugo, along with MacDonald the most touching among the cast), brings to town Larry’s former fiancée, Ann (Emily Candia), whom he now intends to wed.
The notion of culpability hovers over the entire story, and that of forgiveness is grudging. But even in 2018, this reflects the path that life, including among families, often takes.
All My Sons runs through Oct. 13 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. $20-$25; onstageplayhouse.org
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.