Friday, October 17, 2008

Did Critics Think Sons Offered Its All?

Did Critics Think Sons Offered Its All?

Last evening, Broadway's second revival of of Arthur Miller's All My Sons opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Helmed by Simon McBurney, the productions stars John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson and Katie Holmes.

Most critics were taken with the high-concept approach offered by McBurney, with one notable exception.

Praising the show as a "striking new production," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News awards four out of five stars: "Lithgow is outstanding as the conflicted family man whose self-interest proves his undoing. He seems to evoke every stage of grief as Keller's life crumbles before him. As his devoted wife, Wiest marvelously conveys steel beneath Kate's soft-focus eyes and deep-set denial, while Wilson shows he's more than just apple-pie handsome in his highly emotional and physical performance in the shattering showdown. Holmes, a TV and film vet, makes a fine Broadway debut."

Heralding All My Sons as "a commanding illustration of the power of theater and a searing drama," Variety's David Rooney also praises: "McBurney acknowledges those diverse traditions as well as more experimental forms. He shows us the tricks and mechanics of theater, uses film devices like underscoring and projections to intensify drama or foster evocative connections, and coaxes layered interpretations from the actors that embrace grandiose, melodramatic theatricality on the surface while scratching away underneath to uncover the characters' wounded humanity in painfully real terms. There's no playing it safe here on any level, yet the complex approach feels organic -- every unconventional touch serves to break open the drama, not simply to embellish it. Some no doubt will find the treatment overwrought, but like it or not, this is far more interesting than another reverential remount."

Saying "This really shouldn't work, but it does," Newsday's Linda Winer joins in the positive notices: "John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest are shattering as Joe and Kate Keller.... The real news, however, is the high-concept rethinking by director Simon McBurney. This should be a stylistic hodgepodge, but, miraculously, the fusion honors the Ibsen-inspired moral authority of early Miller, the distancing modern techniques of Brecht and the special effects of an old-time Hollywood melodrama. We are warned from the prologue, which Miller never wrote."

Citing McBurney's staging as "unexpectedly effective," Clive Barnes of New York Post offers two and a half stars: "A starry cast has been assembled to yell their lungs out.... The fault lies not with them but with the play.... [T]oo much of the acting is two-dimensional, at best. Lithgow starts in a sunny, benign fashion, but eventually finds himself screeching alongside Holmes, looking tough under a glossy wig, and the all-American Wilson. In all of this emotional clutter, the finest performance comes from Wiest, a silent pool of grief in a most touching portrayal of woe."

Calling McBurney's work an "intriguing but disconnected interpretation," Ben Brantley of The New York Times is a bit more incisive: "The preview performance I saw of this one left me stone cold, despite some electric moments from a very fine Mr. Lithgow and Mr. Wilson. The very different leading actresses -- the stage veteran Ms. Wiest and the neophyte Ms. Holmes, in her Broadway debut -- are sad casualties of Mr. McBurney’s high-concept approach.... Mostly this vaunting interpretation falls into that same limbo between intention and execution where so many of Miller’s baffled American souls find themselves."

After carefully reading each of these reviews, I must say that I've never agreed more with Ben Brantley than I have in his critique. You'll find my own SOB Review by clicking here.

This limited run of All My Sons is currently slated to close on January 11, 2009.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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