by Sam Roschewsk
The Kenyon College Dance and Dramatic Club’s (KCDC) performance of All My Sons started with a literal bang this past Thursday, April 2. The show opened ominously with a falling flagpole, in a thunderstorm, which set a foreboding tone for the rest of the play.
Written by Arthur Miller, All My Sons takes place post-World War II and centers around the Keller family, including eldest son, Larry, who died in the war, and his father (Alex Kirshy ’17), Joe Keller, who was exonerated from a faulty engine manufacturing scandal. The story follows the family through their daily life as they desperately try to hold their lives together in light of recent events.
Joe Keller’s remaining son Chris, played by Tristan Biber ’17, offered a memorable and emotional performance. Biber’s energy made his character strong and poignant, and he kept a constant tangible connection with the audience. Whether with his tender and loving moments with Anne, his fiancée (Charlotte Herzog ’17), or his final moment with his father when he realizes Joe’s crime, the level of emotion he was able to portray on stage made the story feel so real. Biber’s actions and constant energy level on the stage endeared the audience to his character.
Though Biber by himself was captivating, his moments with other characters made the latter half of the show enthralling. In particular, the scene when Joe is trying to explain to Chris why he purposely shipped out faulty engines exemplified this stage magic. The conflict between them had high stakes, which the actors were able to convey well and with much tension. They weren’t just men screaming at each other on a stage; they were a father and son. This was emphasized by the way Kirshy held himself throughout the scene in such a dominant manner, though he was clearly desperate.
Although Kirshy’s performance in many scenes was convincing and striking, the final scene didn’t quite hold the same feeling. Kirshy brought a unique callousness to Joe’s character, and while that served well in the scenes with his son, or the moments when he was truly trying to keep his family from falling apart, it did not read well in this scene. The way that Kirshy played the closing, leading up to Joe’s suicide, Joe seemed more angry and resentful than depressed, lost or hopeless. This climax still was very gripping and many of the decisions Kirshy and the other actors made in this moment made it emotional, but altogether there could have been less anger and callousness in Joe Keller at the curtain’s close.
Hannah Zipperman ’16 presented a multi-faceted Kate Keller, Joe’s wife. Her character was easily one of the most nuanced and complex, as she was the one trying primarily to hold the family together and keep life normal. She went from being a kind hostess to a strict no-nonsense wife, then to a mourning, devastated mother. She was able to clearly and distinctly present all these layers of emotion, and she always seemed to have some ulterior plan. In her final moment, she hears her husband’s gun fire, and she remains on stage for a few minutes, shocked and devastated. She opened the show standing on the porch watching the flagpole fall, and ended it on the same porch crying and defeated; she kept the audience aware of the effects of Joe’s actions, and it was her final moments of performance that guided the audience to feel sympathetic toward the family.
Overall, the second and third acts of the play were the strongest. They were highly energized and fast-paced, which allowed audience members to feel constantly engaged. The first act was a bit slow, as there was a lot of plot exposition involved, and the pace could have been faster. The first act of the show did not accurately complement the stunning performance of Act Two and Act Three, and cutting scenes, or having actors move more on stage might have improved that. For example, one of the most exciting and fun moments of Act One was Joe playing with the little neighbor boy on stage. Having Joe and the boy run around changed the stagnant feeling of having Joe in the same chair for most of Act One. Still, the actors tackled the difficult, mature content with grace and devotion, and imbued the stage with a harsh, but touching life.