To get to your seat at the Curio Theatre Company for its season-opener, Arthur Miller's All My Sons (through Nov. 3), you first must enter the faithfully rendered front door of a suburban house. You cross the foyer (bookshelves, old papers, shoes lying about) and come out into a backyard, with flowers, tree, hedge, fence, marks of suburban comfort, along with a sense of neighbors close by.
This set, which director/actor/designer Paul Kuhn rightly calls "very ambitious," is really the star of this production. Kuhn and company have updated this 1947 play to set it free of period restraint. As it carries us into this American version of Greek tragedy, the set seems to tell us, "I am why this happens. I am why people keep secrets from themselves, their families, their neighbors (who knew all the time). I am the denial of history, the private life that ultimately destroys human ties."
As in Greek tragedy, a domestic crime pollutes a family, whose members try to evade the toll it will take. All My Sons concerns consequences. Kuhn has said he'd been waiting for the right time for this play, and the present moment, when leaders act seemingly without fear of consequences, was the time.
Kuhn plays Joe Keller, paterfamilias, factory owner, breadwinner, bereaved father (he and wife Kate, played with furtive hysteria by Trice Baldwin, grieve over a son missing in the war). As the play progresses, Joe seems to dwindle, grow sharper and more shadowed. Kate is one of the great inconsistent characters in drama: Minutely observant of family and neighbors, she is also obsessed to madness with the belief their son will return. "She's out of her mind," Joe says, and he handles her gingerly, afraid of a coming explosion.
On this night, the play started slowly, with missed connections. Awkwardness seemed to dwell among the actors, not the characters. But after intermission, the string bag pulled tight, in the person of Carlo Campbell as George Deever, former family friend and neighborhood boy. What he has learned could blow the Kellers apart. Wide-eyed at the horror, staggering, he is a depth charge amid this supposed suburban calm. " … We did a terrible thing," he says to his sister, Annie (played by Nastassja Whitman). "We can never be forgiven." Campbell is unforgettable, and from his brief appearance on, the production rallies and races to its end.
Almost everyone has a lie to tell, a sin to reveal, and a price to pay. Chris Keller (well done by baby-faced Chase Byrd, who takes him from naïve boy to complicit corporation man) has come back from war with a vision of human responsibility, but, deflated by the corrupt, conventional, selfish America he discovered on his return, he admits: "I'm like everybody else now." Kate pleads with Chris "to protect us" without telling him from what; lying to herself and all around her, she will lose most. And Joe sounds the most petulant, doomed note of all: "You wanted money, so I made money. What must I be forgiven?"
Curio reminds us that, at any moment, any place, that could be our question. By the end, this production persuades us that consequences are real – it's our hedges and walls and fences that lie.