Half of the characters in Arthur Miller's drama "All My Sons" fall near the age of the actors in its McLennan Theatre, the twentysomething children of the Keller and Deever families, but it's the actors playing the parents who provide the play's emotional gravity.
The post-World War II drama finds the two families caught between past and future, as many American families, two years after the war. Midwestern businessman Joe Keller (Colton Halliburton) prospered during the war by building aircraft engine parts, surviving a scandal that saw neighbor and partner Steve Deever jailed for shipping out defective cylinder heads that led to the deaths of 21 airmen.
His wife Kate (Hannah Young) continues to grieve the loss of their eldest son Larry, a pilot missing in action for three years, and keeps hope alive that he'll return. Younger son Chris (Alec Ehringer) struggles with the guilt of losing the men under his command and the prospect of happiness in a romance with childhood neighbor Ann Deever (Annie DeYoung), Larry's former girlfriend, with whom he's been corresponding.
The play opens as she's visiting the Keller family at his invitation, a visit during which he plans to ask her to marry him. Her visit triggers both memories of the happier pre-war days between the Kellers and Deevers and the darker incident that split them as well as the Deever children and their father.
Neighbors dropping by - Doctor Jim Bayless (Bobby McCarthy) trying to avoid house calls, his aggressive wife Sue (a forceful MacKenzie Smith) determined to keep him in a paying job, Frank Lubey (Kade Hollis) believing in the value of astrological signs - hint that the neighborhood may not be convinced Joe was blameless in the scandal that sent his partner to prison.
A nighttime storm that blew down Larry's memorial tree and Kate's unsettling dream add to an unease that soon manifests itself in suppressed fears, emotions and dark secrets that start to bubble forth.
Kate, alone in her belief that Larry is still alive, feels betrayed by her family's and Ann's lack of loyalty to Larry; they, in turn, feel she's unwilling to face facts. Chris, raised in Larry's shadow, wants to break with his parents to chart his own life with Ann, yet struggles to do so.
Paterfamilia Joe tries to impose an even keel on all this, but a surprise visit by Ann's brother George (Christian Templet), fresh from a meeting with his father in prison, provides the spark that soon blows apart the relationships onstage as Joe's true role in the scandal and Larry's fate are revealed.
The complex emotional layers in Miller's characters are heavy lifting for a young cast and anger is often the easiest to express, particularly for Templet as an embittered brother and Ehringer, trapped by love, loss and betrayal.
Young and Haliburton as the older Kellers, however, ground the drama's emotional resolution, Young with a sustained intensity that shows her pain at Larry's loss may also mask her unwillingness to accept the truth of a past criminal deception, Haliburton with a surface equanimity suppressing responsibility even as he tries to plead it was for his family.
Director Kelly Parker finds a balance in performances and in tone, though the last two snippets of incidental '40s swing music seemed oddly upbeat for the seriousness they separated.
It's a production with contemporary relevance that merits more than its three performances, the last which comes at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at McLennan Community College's Ball Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 and $8. Call 299-8200 for ticket availability.