Friday, October 17, 2008

All My Sons

Grade: B-

By Arthur Miller; Directed by Simon McBurney. Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Through Jan. 11, 2009.

(Critic-O-Metered by Isaac Butler)

Simon McBurney's experimental (and multimedia) directing of Miller's classic Ibsonian morality tale of war profiteering manages to upstage Katie Holmes as the subject for reviewers to discuss. Some, like Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout are horrified, while others consider it the most exciting thing to happen to Broadway in a long time. The actors, meanwhile, get near-universal acclaim. Holmes, who reviewers can't help reminding us is married to Tom Cruise, is largely discussed like a kid sister you're proud of for being in the school play.

TheaterMania A+
(David Finkle) Breathtaking performances by John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson, and, yes, Katie Holmes in the revival of Arthur Miller's profoundly moving 1947 play All My Sons instantly tag the an absolute must-see. And, make no mistake, the players' achievements are inextricably tied to Simon McBurney's direction. Most insightfully, McBurney has insisted that to establish the play's close-knit family-and-friends ambience, the actors must constantly touch, embrace, caress, spar, and just plain indulge in additional highly effective laying-on-of-hands.

The Journal News A+
(Jacques Le Sourd) This is an amazing piece of theater that will leave no one who sees it unchanged. It is a memorial to a great playwright, seen through the remarkable eyes of a major young director who knows how to make it vibrant for our time.

The Record A
(Robert Feldberg) One of the toughest challenges for a director is making a familiar play fresh -- either by staging it in a distinctive way, or finding something new in the text. In the breathtaking, fiercely acted revival of Arthur Miller's 1947 drama All My Sons...director Simon McBurney has done both. The result is one of the boldest, most exciting Broadway productions in years.

Newsday A
(Linda Winer) The real 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.

Variety A-
(David Rooney) 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.

NY Daily News A-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Lithgow is outstanding as the conflicted family man whose self-interest proves his undoing...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... makes a fine Broadway debut.

Time Out A-
(Adam Feldman) A remarkable evening at the theater--lucid, bold, modern and emotionally wrenching...The explicit theatricality of McBurney's staging minimizes the play's flaws while deepening its impact. Since most of the acting involves a slight edge of artifice, one is less distracted by the lovely Katie Holmes's show-pony stiffness as Chris's girlfriend...All My Sons proves disturbingly germane to the shameful legacy of the Iraq War. McBurney's vision helps us see ourselves.

The Star-Ledger A-
(Michael Sommers) Revitalizing the drama with striking staging and forceful acting, McBurney delivers an All My Sons that registers directly with today's concerns about the accountability of business executives to the rest of us.

New York Press
(Leonard Jacobs) As Joe, the aging manufacturer who guilt is submerged beneath bravado, Lithgow is transfixing. As his wife, Kate, unable to acknowledge their eldest son is dead, Dianne Weist is a psychological thrashing machine--furious and sweet, sarcastic and beneficent. The couple's younger, more idealistic son, Chris, [is] played with vivacity, wit and mood by Patrick Wilson...Ann...isn't played by Katie Holmes so much as she is heaved, shouted and hoisted around. Holmes has little stage experience and it shows. I didn't say she lacks talent: it's an on-stage security, an ability to dwell in dark places, not browse through them, that she really needs.

CurtainUp B+
(Elyse Sommer) This highly stylized and filmic staging in many ways suits the play's intensely melodramatic plot, but ultimately it's the inherent power of the play itself that makes it a welcome addition to the season's re-examination of dramas that have lasting substance.

Hartford Courant B
(Malcolm Johnson) McBurney...excels in innovative stagecraft, and immediately he shows his hand. He brings the entire company onstage at the start, and Lithgow talks to the audience, instructing them about cellphones and beepers, and setting the scene for the play. Then the stage darkens menacingly, and the deafening howl of a storm fills the theater...As acted by Katie Holmes, [Ann] is a graceful young woman, but has a few awkward moments when she seems to be trying to remember her direction.

The New Yorker B
(Hilton Als) The characters in All My Sons are essentially ideological constructions; one can barely feel the blood beneath the rhetoric. As a result, the show is a directorial challenge. It's a stretch to imagine anyone doing a better job with it than Simon McBurney does here. He draws out the play's emotional and intellectual content by removing it from its naturalistic fustiness.

TheaterMania B
(Peter Filichia) considering that all four previous productions of the play that I've seen in the last 11 years were by-the-book realistic, I rather enjoyed McBurney's playing around with All My Sons. That, though, is because I can "afford" to see an unorthodox production. People who are coming to the theater for the first time may assume that these atypical choices are business-as-usual in the theater. Some may well be intrigued, but many may well feel confused or even repulsed.

NYPost B-
(Clive Barnes) The fault lies not with them but with the play. Given the doings on Wall Street today, its underlying theme of the selfishness, greed and general chicanery of big business should give All My Sons a certain topicality. But it's so sludged in the aftermath of World War II, it even misses out on that.

Entertainment WeeklyB-
(Melissa Rose Bernardo) Yet McBurney's cinematic approach -- underscoring nearly the entire evening with ominous instrumental music, projecting photos onto the back wall -- isn't where this revival falls short; it's the acting. And I'm not talking about Broadway neophyte Holmes...Save Young's beautifully even-keel MD, the neighbors all seem to be in another show...And while Wiest and Lithgow are terrifically well-matched...Lithgow ultimately isn't believable as the blue-collar Keller.

USA Today B-
(Elysa Gardner) At best, [Holmes] exhibits a girlish exuberance that could serve her well in certain stage roles, provided she finds a director who can ease her obvious self-consciousness and get her to focus on the often-intricate process of character development. Sadly, Simon McBurney, who helms this production, is not that director.

AM New York C+
(Matt Windman) We have a lot to say about the artistic merits and drawbacks of Simon McBurney's revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons. But we know what you want to hear: can Katie Holmes (aka Mrs. Tom Cruise) act in an intense Broadway play? And here's our answer: No!

Backstage C+
(David Sheward) McBurney pushes it too far. Too many thoughts and references are given literal stage life. When it is announced a character with potentially damaging information will soon arrive by train, all the supporting players and understudies rush on stage with folding chairs, snap them open and -- viola -- they become the train. Similarly, as in a Warner Brothers melodrama, every significant plot development is accompanied by an overwrought musical theme. Too many cast members respond to this busy activity and hyperactive aural background with overwrought acting.

Theater News Online C
(Patrick Lee) You can't kill Arthur Miller's All My Sons if you have a capable cast of actors. And a capable cast of actors is just about all that this misconceived revival has going for it...With this fine cast, it's regrettable that director Simon McBurney's production rejects the naturalism that Miller's play needs to achieve its full power.

The New York Times C-
(Ben Brantley) Mr. McBurney has staged Miller's tale of a self-deluding, guilt-crippled American family with the ritualistic formality and sense of inexorability of Aeschylus and Sophocles. Would that he could summon the primal power associated with those ancients.

Bloomberg C-
(John Simon) Even aside from the obvious crowd-pleasing strategies, All My Sons leaves me with the oft-repeated feeling: What does it say about the American (or perhaps even world) theater that a playwright of such manifest limitations is reckoned as one of its pinnacle-sharing mainstays?

Associated Press C-
(Michael Kuchwara) Miller's play, despite its potent message, is weighed down with enough symbols, not to mention its own awkward melodramatics. McBurney and company have, unfortunately, added even more of their own.

Chicago Tribune C-
(Chris Jones) Once this play loses its relationship with reality, once the actors start acting to type and playing the end of the play at the beginning, once the meta-dramatic, Thornton Wilder touches overwhelm the natural, All My Sons loses much of what made it such a great American drama in the first place.

Village Voice C-
(Michael Feingold) All My Sons vests both its emotional and its moral weight in its characters, trusting its actors to bear the double burden. It doesn't require the panoply of swirling projections, ominously throbbing music, ghostly parades of supernumeraries, and frantically artificial blocking that McBurney deploys. The result looks like an effort to duplicate Stephen Daldry's 1994 revival of J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, also seen on Broadway in 1947, which shares Miller's stern view of moral responsibility among the monied.

Talkin Broadway D+
(Matthew Murray) Here, the director's insipient [sic] playfulness, which suggests that of a filthy-rich teenage boy let loose in an upscale electronics store, is constantly at odds with Miller's story about assuming, accepting, and understanding responsibility. McBurney is always trying to transform this staunchly corporeal work into an airy, arty memory play, as if to tell us that though its lesson is worth heeding, we all have better things to do than actually pay attention to it.

Talkin' Broadway D
(Barbara & Scott Siegel) Sure, Katie Holmes is the weakest actor on the stage in All My Sons. But that is hardly the major problem of this revival of Arthur Miller's classic play...The show's director, Simon McBurney, has undercut its power with one foolish decision after another. At base, McBurney has attempted to change a naturalistic play of ideas into some sort of imagistic Our Town. It ain't happenin'...This is, to be sure, one of the most disappointing revivals of the season despite some fine work by Lithgow, Wiest, and Wilson.

Wall St. Journal:D-
(Terry Teachout) I could go on and on about the many things that are wrong with this production, but there's no point, since so little about it is right.

The Journal News A+ 14; The Record A 13; Newsday A 13;Variety A- 12; New York Daily News A- 12; Time Out A- 12; The Star Ledger A- 12; New York Press B+ 11; CurtainUp B+11; Hartford Couran B 10; New Yorker B 10; TheaterMania B 10; NYPost B- 9; Entertainment Weekly B- 9; USA TODAY B- 9; AMNY C+ 8;Backstage C+ 8; Theater News Online C 7; New York Times C- 6; Bloomberg C- 6; AP C- 6; Village Voice C- 6;Chicago Tribune C- 6; TalkinBroaday D+ 5; Talkin' Broadway D 4; Wall St. Journal D- 3; TOTAL = 232 /26 = 8.92 B-

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