Annette Bening and Tracy Letts both come out swinging in this new Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s 1947 indictment of the American dream. But the most pulse-pounding moment in this surface-skimming production is the thunderstorm projected in black and white over the pre-show drop, as if transporting us from Kansas to Oz.
Then it’s curtain up on the Keller family’s bracingly verdant Ohio backyard, designed by Douglas W Schmidt, and lit by Natasha Katz, which might serve easily as a repertory set for The Secret Garden. In concert with several costumes in candied pastels by Jane Greenwood, this domestic tragedy’s aesthetic bears incongruent resemblance to a lush Easter basket.
The performances likewise feel wrapped for individual consumption, rarely cohering or combusting, even as the family’s secrets come tumbling out. The romance between one veteran son (Benjamin Walker) and his MIA brother’s sweetheart (Francesca Carpanini) simmers without heating up. The bombshells, that missing really means dead and that one father betrayed the other, drop but don’t detonate.
Director Jack O’Brien lends Miller’s drama a curious sunlit sheen, which may have stood in sharp contrast to a tempest that never arrives. Despite welcome bits of racially inclusive casting (original director Gregory Mosher left the production over a dispute with Miller’s estate about his desired racial adjustments to the cast), O’Brien makes little case for the play’s urgency, though its interrogation of capitalist deceit in the name of legacy certainly hold up.
Bening and Letts are formidable stage actors but their talents are hampered here by a production never calibrated to take flight.