Entries in Jonathan Smoots (2)

Wednesday
Aug212013

 

Family and their Fortunes Deftly Define APT’s All My Sons

Who becomes a person’s family---sons and daughters, fathers and mothers in today’s world? Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Miller’s first successful play All My Sons resonates with these contemporary questions at the American Players Theatre Up the Hill stage this season.   

Set in the summer of 1947 in the aftermath of World War II,  the script’s three families meet in the backyards of their Wisconsin homes, an ordinary neighborhood, after a night’s thunderstorm. However, Miller’s play based on a true story unleashes the storms of life that are only beginning on this August morning and become deftly directed by William Brown. 

In this very private setting, the Kellers, Bayliss and Lubey families tend the ground between their perceived lives and realities. And Annie Deever, a former resident, has returned to visit at Chris Keller’s request. While Annie was “going with” Chris’s brother, Larry, Larry has been reported missing in action for three years. And though Chris served in the war and returned, he now wishes to propose to Annie although his mother Kate waits for Larry’s return. In her mind, Larry is only lost instead of killed from a flying mission. 

Annie’s father Steve and Joe Keller worked in a business together, making parts for war planes, when an entire shipment cracked. The defects were covered up in hopes of being discovered after more were manufactured and could be resent. This opportunity failed, and so did the parts, causing 21 pilots to crash on flight missions.While Joe and Annie’s father were arrested and put on trial,  Joe was exonerated, although Steve remains in prison, which caused Annie and her brother, George, and their mother to move away, perhaps to discover the real truth. 

And so from these multiple losses, each member in this community wrestles with social responsibility, covering up what they believe they know, the ravages of war, protecting their families and the price of a monetary fortune won or lost.

“Money, money, money, money,” Jim Bayliss repeats. He’s a physician who really wishes to do research, yet research pays very little compared to an individual practice. Bayliss continues, “If you say it enough, it doesn’t mean anything.. Wish I would be around when that doesn’t matter anymore.”

Chris Keller struggles with the large amounts of money his father, Joe, still makes from the mechanical parts business. Fortunes were made and lost during World War II, in currency and lives. Chris lremembers he ost his entire battalion in several missives and feels the weight of this responsibility, his idealistic notions, where everyone is their brother’s keeper. A principle in the new world to come, where  “our” brother as Chris says, “Is s a love another man has for a man.”

On opening night, what made Miller’s story come alive again with these timeless questions was a riveting APT cast centered by Jonathan Smoots and Sarah Day in the roles of Joe and Kate Keller. Smoots’ talented egacy at APT crystallized his affection for his son and love for his wife, emotions poignantly heartbreaking in the final scenes.

Marcus Truschinski radiates goodness from son Chris, so the words are believable when he says, “the wars should make us better,” whether spoken father to son, son to mother, or neighbor to neighbor. His lovely bride in waiting, the beautiful Kelsey Brennan, adds spunk to Annie Deever, the woman caught in the middle of the Deever tragedies. And while only supporting roles, the rest of the cast admirably fills in the neighborhood with characters that enlighten Miller’s action further. 

Kevin Depinet’s lush, green set design envisions a picture perfect American life exactly as the trellis covered in red roses does on his stage. Life unexpectedly blooms like roses while uncovering the thorns on the vines underneath without trying to destroy the beauty in the petals A beauty seen in costumes designed by Rachel Anne Healy. 

That’s what a war, and sometimes daily living, does, when Keller admits, “I had two sons and now there’s one, war changed all the tallies.”

And yes, Miller ends his play similar to a Greek tragedy where another human person dies to right a wrong, to change the tallies in his family's history again. This reviewer shamelessly shed a few tears at the conclusion, for the tallies changed or invested in war, fathers, sons, and now daughters, fortunes, lovers and their lives, often lost. Miller’s characters grieved, survived, went forward, and so will the audience while they ponder who in the world constitutes their own fathers and sons, mothers and daughters? What events and persons will make them better people in spite of life’s tragedies.  

American Players Theatre presents Arthur Miller's All My Sons through the remaining 2013 season at the Up the Hill Theatre. For further information or tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left.   By Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

Monday
Jul082013

 The Miracle of APT’s Molly Sweeney

In the Touchstone Theatre for the 2013 season, American Players Theatre presents Brian Friel’s compelling Molly Sweeney. The 1993 play written by the renowned Irish playwright, often compared to Chekhov, sets his three characters in one of his favorite imaginary towns, Ballybeg, and uses a format similar to his previous play Faith Healer: Where three characters retell the story through monologues without any dialogue between them for the entire performance.

Friel’s premise introduces the main character, Molly Sweeney, a now fortyish woman blind since an illness at 10 months of age. Then her husband, Frank, a man enthusiastic to take up the cause of restoring Molly's vision with vigilance. And a brilliant ophthalmologist, Dr./Mr. Rice, a man “blindsighted” by his former successes and needs the miracle of restoring Molly’s sight to revitalize his personal and professional integrity.

Playing Sweeney, Colleen Madden gives a stellar performance, where Molly leaps off center stage with clarity and warm character embodying a cheerful, confident person who believes her blindness is a slight misfortune rather than a disability. Molly reveled in developing her other senses, smell, sound, taste and touch, with such acuity she “saw” experiences and people in ways a sighted person was unable to, or perhaps never could. 

David Daniel acts as the complex Frank, whose passion for various causes or money making ventures drives him toward several ill fated journeys. Without common sense and good in his heart, he wishes the best for “his beautiful Molly.” On the other side of the stage sits the once super star physician Dr./Mr. Rice, who comes to life through actor Jonathan Smoots in poignant portrayal of a once famous healer, conflicted and trying to rationalize his desire to create Molly’s miracle for himself instead of her. Each man encourages Molly to reach for her new vision with few considerations for Molly, if she needs this restoration at all.

The real miracle in Friel’s profound play might be realizing physically seeing anything rarely leads to complete understanding or believing. Today’s society can create a trompe l’oeil, airbrush or Photoshop image, and then stares at tiny screens continuously, sometimes wondering if what they read or see can actually be real.

Molly's character reminds the audience physical sight constitutes only one fifth of a human’s sensory perceptions, and when Molly danced, swam in the sea, or caught the fragrance of flowers, touched their petals, these other sensations can be far more exciting and pleasurable than merely visually recognizing or watching from afar. In a contemporary culture obsessed with visual impressions, in how people or objects look, which Molly never consumed herself with, Friel’s script resonates more powerfully today. He asks the audience to consider incorporating the entirety of human sensations into one’s life, while pondering the imperfection of relying on sight, or primarily on sight alone.

APT crafts a riveting afternoon or evening under the sure handed direction of Kenneth Albers, who sends Molly Irish dancing or swimming when rising from her chair, to show the audience how she lives in her alternate world full of scents, sounds, touches and tastes. These performances from three immensely gifted actors ask the audience to intellectually consider what "seeing," apart from that singular physical activity, might mean even though very few people would choose to be without sight and live in perpetual darkness. Many people rarely "see" all that surrounds them, due to distraction, much less completely use their other four senses.  

The play also inspires an acute appreciation for being grateful for what one already has, while anticipating the unknowns to any unseen futures. Where using the alternate skill of hearing, sound, really listening to another human being might prove to be more useful than convincing an individual to conform to someone else’s ideal. Do Frank and Mr. Rice use Molly to validate their own choices instead of considering the genuine person she has grown to be? This thoroughly compelling APT production in the intimate Touchstone venue, which has provided exceptional new theatrical experiences for their ardent fans, plays perfectly to the true miracle of Molly Sweeney.

American Players Theatre presents Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney through the summer 2013. For information, show times and tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left. by Peggy Sue Dunigan