As is often the case, the ancient Greeks had a word for it.
“Hamartia:” a character trait that inexorably leads a person to their downfall. A “tragic flaw.” Literature and the theater are full of examples, from Achilles to Hamlet and back.
Joe Keller, the protagonist in the late Arthur Miller’s still impactful play, 1947’s “All My Sons,” could be the poster boy for hamartia. Joe is a successful maker of wartime armaments – specifically parts for the famed American fighter plane of WWII, the P-40. On the surface, he’s a good guy: the neighborhood uncle, ready to play 18 on Saturday or pop a few cold ones in the backyard, ripe for a picnic, always good for a loan. But he had a blind spot for moral responsibility to his community or his country. When Joe’s life came crashing down, secrets of corruption and scandal bared, his name anathema, greed and hubris uncovered, his son, Chris, honorable, a do-the-right-thing guy, asks his father through tears, “Are you in this world?” No answer from dad. Hamartia at work.
“All My Sons,” skillfully, knowingly directed at The Irish Classical Theatre Co. by Greg Natale – back after his lauded interpretation of another Miller play, the seminal “Death of a Salesman” a year ago – is classic Miller time: “I try to take setting and dramatic situations from life which involve real questions of right and wrong. Then I settle on the moral dilemma and try to point a real, though hard, path out. I don’t see how you can write anything decent without using the question of right and wrong as the basis,” he wrote. Perfect. But in Joe Keller’s case, there was no way out. Joe lied to government investigators – after 21 American airmen died over Australia flying defective P-40’s with cracked parts made in his plant back home – that it was his business partner’s decision to deliver the damaged goods. A jury bought Joe’s testimony, the partner was jailed and ruined, his family ruptured. Joe survived and his tarnished reputation was restored, his family’s doubts relegated to silence. One neighbor, though, thought Joe had “pulled a fast one.”
From the opening minutes of “All My Sons,” there are hints that something isn’t right. Sunday morning on the patio, coffee and the newspaper, a certain laze about comings and goings – underlying tensions, false banter. Natale here begins his meticulous work in disclosing bits and pieces of what has gone before and what slowly begins to unfold. Things are not what they seem. Ghosts. The mood begins to turn dark.
This is an emotional story and Natale and his cast for the ages tell it extraordinarily well. Western New York’s best, Peter Palmisano, is Joe, so precise, so complete, so amazingly watchable; he is faultless. Josie DiVincenzo is wife Katie, the family glue, painfully losing it, denial part of everyday life; two wonderful young acting talents, Anthony Alocer and Candice Kogut, turn in remarkable performances, particularly the aghast and torn Alocer, as son Chris, his family disintegrating before his eyes.
Others in this stellar cast include Chris Kelly, Lisa Vitrano, Rich Kraemer, John Profeta, Kristen Bentley and young Ayden Herreid. An ensemble to remember to be sure but Palmisano, DiVincenzo and Alocer on stage together? Dynamite.
Irish Classical is in its 25th season. If alive today, Arthur Miller would be 100.
No gifts, please. This stunning revival of “All My Sons” will suffice.