On its own merit, "All My Sons," now resurrected in stunning Hamptons glory -- starring Alec Baldwin, Laurie Metcalf and a promising newcomer to the stage, Ryan Eggold of TV's "The Blacklist" -- remains a landmark in American drama. But the play is also remarkable for the doors it opened to Arthur Miller.
When Miller's "The Man Who Had All the Luck" closed on Broadway after four performances, he vowed to "find some other line of work" if his next play also flopped.
Perhaps he would've become a salesman.
Besides subsequent masterpieces that "Sons" made possible, the postwar tragedy played a role in wrecking a friendship and Miller's eventual blacklisting. Partly because of its unflattering portrait of the American Dream, a theme revisited in "Death of a Salesman," Miller was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Elia Kazan, director of "Sons" and former Communist Party member, divulged names of fellow "Reds."
The ideology that troubled the committee is articulated in an impassioned debate near the end of "All My Sons." Directed with focused intensity by Stephen Hamilton, Eggold animates Chris with a contained fury soon to boil over. He's lived in denial about Dad's complicity in a cover-up regarding the manufacture of aircraft engine cylinders that killed 21 World War II pilots. Chris' older brother, Larry, a pilot, has been MIA for 3 1/2 years. Joe, apprehensively affable as played by Baldwin, was arrested along with his business partner, Steve. Father to Larry's girlfriend, he remains imprisoned while Joe was exonerated, having called in sick the day the defective parts were shipped. Joe's wife, Kate, knows the truth. Still, she can't allow herself to believe that their oldest son may never return. Metcalf rivets our attention every moment she's onstage, fiercely shunning her Gold Star Mother eligibility.
Ann -- implacably regarded by Kate as "Larry's girl" -- is visiting, followed by her brother (David McElwee), who's paid a call on their father in prison. Ann, ripe with anticipation as played by Caitlin McGee, expects Chris to propose.
Joe has reason to be nervous this day. Culpable or not, we feel for him and his traumatized family.
Lit to time-of-day precision by Sebastian Paczynski, Michael Carnahan's porch-and-backyard set, with a peek indoors, captures middle-American domesticity like a Norman Rockwell cover. Except that, in the manner of classic Greek tragedy, all unravels within 24 hours.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays through June 28, John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, 158 Main St., East Hampton
TICKETS $25-$150; 631-324-4050, guildhall.org