Beginning with an explosion and ending with a bang, Arthur Miller’s postwar drama “All My Sons” retains the power of a classical Greek tragedy. It’s the story of a man slowly bleeding to death unawares from a self-inflicted mortal wound to his honor; a powerful businessman finally realizing, way too late, that his actions have consequences. It’s the antithesis to the more forgiving “Death of a Salesman,” in which a father is the victim of a million petty defeats, but “Sons’ ” raw moral outrage still burns fiercely in the impassioned new production at the Geffen Playhouse.
Joe Keller (Len Cariou) has been exonerated of a possible war crime, and son Chris (Neil Patrick Harris) believes in his innocence. Joe’s wife, Kate (Laurie Metcalf), refuses to believe her other son, who went missing during World War II more than three years earlier, is dead.
When Chris brings his brother’s ex-fiancee Ann (Amy Sloan) home with the thought of marrying her himself, the edifice of lies unsteadily supporting the family collapses.
Director Randall Arney slowly and deliberately ratchets up the tension to the point that when secrets are finally revealed, it’s devastating, and his exceptional cast brings the play to painful and desperate life.
Cariou is splendid as the amiable paterfamilias with an unfortunate ethical blind spot, and his acting in a scene in which he cajoles and blusters Ann’s brother into betraying his own father is masterful.
Sloan’s transition from a pleasant guest to a practical woman fighting for what she wants is impressive, and Robin Riker is sweetly vicious as the unsaintly neighbor Sue.
Harris displays a commanding stage presence as Chris, alternately forceful and vulnerable, and his portrayal of the final, agonized confrontation with Joe — his horror that his life has been reduced to “loot with blood on it” — hits like an emotional bludgeon. It’s a stunning and accomplished performance.
Metcalf is brilliant as the brittle Kate, bullying her family into embracing her madness. She imbues her character with a stiff physicality and sudden swift movements, a frightening evocation of a woman so possessed by grief and rage that she can barely keep herself from flying apart. The moment where she coldly explains to Ann that she’ll have to honor her dead fiance by living alone for the rest of her life is truly chilling.
Robert Blackman’s innocuous-seeming clapboard house set looms large on the stage, nicely representing the overwhelming familial theme of the show. Daniel Ionazzi’s lighting deftly leads the characters through their long day’s journey into night, subtly depicting the changes from morning till late in the evening, and Richard Woodbury’s sound design starts things off excitingly as the roar of an airplane fills the theater.