The scene is set in late 1940s Ohio.
It is a time of emotional schizophrenia in the United States.
World War II is won, and the boys are coming home to celebration.
But the overwhelming horrors of war and loss of life necessitate mourning as well.
Husbands and wives reunite, alongside widows burying their lost loves.
Mothers joyfully welcome one son home, and still sadly wait for the son missing in action.
With so many lives lost, and so many saved, with happiness and despair swirling so close together; it is impossible for the survivors to avoid an ever-present sense of guilt.
American playwright Arthur Miller knows a bit about guilt, and a great deal about the effects of a heavy emotion on family members.
His 1947 play, All My Sons, deftly explores the ups and downs of the American dream and the cost of war and loss on a family.
It may appear to be a Herculean task to present material from an era 50 years in the past, but with an incredible cast, set and costumes, the Arden Theater delivers a powerful dramatic production.
A doomed affair between Ann Deever (Tracey Maloney) and Chris Keller (Ian Merril Peakes) initially propels the drama. Ann was the sweetheart of Chris’ brother Larry, but Larry is three years lost and presumed dead in the Pacific.
And if Ann and Chris marry, then Larry’s tortured mother Kate (Carla Belver) may be forced to finally admit her son is dead.
As Chris and Ann struggle with their future, a monstrous secret harbored by Chris’ father Joe (Tom McCarthy) awaits to be discovered.
Guilt motivates every character’s action. Whether by sacrifice or success, every character is enveloped in a choking cloud of guilt.
The impressive cast makes it easy to empathize with the characters as they struggle to choose between personal needs and family duty.
By the end of the second act, a sense of dread is mounting.
But the audience and the characters must come to a resolution and lay the pain to rest.
After a slow start, the production flows to an explosive finish.
All 10 performers are incredible, each imprinting their character’s damage upon the audience in a short time.
There are no cardboard cutouts, no stereotypical villains.
Flawed characters are brought to life by a truly remarkable troupe.
Special notice should go to Ian Merrill Peakes, Carla Belver, and Tom McCarthy for their outstanding performance as the charming-but-cursed Keller clan.
John Francis Brown, who not only teaches theater students at Temple, but is also an alumnus, does an excellent turn as Frank the astrologically obsessed neighbor.
Only one magnificently designed set is used, and the costuming is demure and appropriate to the period.
But All My Sons is truly an actor-motivated production.
Hardly an uplifting piece, the play is a cathartic and cleansing journey.
It is a reminder that family life is not always the “Brady Bunch.”
With an unparalleled cast, the Arden Theater delivers a form of entertaining soul searching that will be cheaper and better for you then a session with a therapist.
All My Sons runs through Nov. 17. Tickets are $22 – $ 36 and may be purchased by calling the Arden Box Office at 215-922-122 or online at www.ardentheatre.org.
Matthew Ray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.