How to Kill America

Photo by Michael LamontEven “good wars” leave bad scars, a lesson we would all be wise to recall in this era of preemptive invasion and massive military spending. Arthur Miller wrote presciently about the legacy of battle and the uneasy intersection of combat and commerce in his classic All My Sons, currently in production at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Miller's first work of note, All My Sons owes much to the social realism of Ibsen and the dramatic sensibilities of Chekhov. Symbolically set on the outskirts of an unnamed American town, the play takes place a few years after World War II. Like most families, the war took its toll on the Kellers: eldest son Larry is missing and presumed killed in action; his brother Chris (Jamison Jones) is suffering from survivor guilt and disillusionment. Their father, Joe (Charles Lanyer), was accused of shipping defective parts to the Army, killing 21 men. He got out on appeal and has spent the past few years slowly crawling from the shadow of community suspicion. The arrival of Ann (Monette Magrath), his jailed partner's daughter, threatens to undermine the family's carefully constructed foundation of lies and denial.

Despite the play's rich dramatic possibilities and obvious contemporary resonance, director Jules Aaron opts for nostalgia over vitality, leading to an airless museum piece that is respectful and polished, but only sporadically engaging. The few moments of real humanity almost invariably involve Anne Gee Byrd's Kate, devastatingly authentic as the emotionally brittle mother still holding out hope for her son's return. For the most part, Magrath and Jones also manage to break through this staging's sentimentality, as does Jodi Carlisle as the Kellers' neighbor, Sue; her scene with the sweetly trusting Ann crackles with ambiguity, danger and smiling menace, all genuine qualities the rest of this production sorely lacks.

All My Sons at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (714) 994-6150. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 N 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 N 7:30 p.m. Through Nov. 23. $30-$38.

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