‘All My Sons’ at Keegan Theatre is satisfying work for director Rhea, a ‘Miller advocate’

(C. Stanley Photography) - Kevin Hasser, left, and Brianna Letourneau in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” directed by Susan Marie Rhea.

(C. Stanley Photography) - Kevin Hasser, left, and Brianna Letourneau in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” directed by Susan Marie Rhea.

“I’m the big Miller advocate,” said Susan Marie Rhea, associate artistic director of Keegan Theatre. She means Arthur Miller, the playwright for whom she harbors “a particular passion.” Her second shot at directing Miller’s work, Keegan’s production of “All My Sons,” opened last weekend.

“I’ve long, long loved the play,” she said. “It was really just a matter of time before Keegan did it.”

Rhea’s most recent effort directing Miller was last season’s production of “The Crucible.” She expected that “All My Sons” wouldn’t be too tricky a follow-up.

“I’m not sure I fully appreciated how challenging it is to do the piece,” Rhea said, “to keep the balance of the revelations of the play.”

Unlike “The Crucible,” which is “all caught up in the glamour, for lack of a better word, of the playability of a trial setting [and] this salacious affair, [‘All My Sons’] is a quieter piece, and in that way it’s more challenging. It all takes place in a back yard,” Rhea said.

The pacing, too, can be problematic, as this is a play in which “every page, there’s some profound conversation that happens,” Rhea said. “The Crucible” takes care of those beats for you; it’s not on autopilot, exactly, it just follows every minor fall with a major lift. “All My Sons” requires a more deliberate hand to slow down and speed up scenes accordingly. “[You have to know] when to let a moment breathe, when you have to let the audience catch up with you,” Rhea said. “It’s very challenging. . . . I did not realize how hard it was going to be to find those moments.”

And, she added, there’s only one way to find them: “A lot of experimentation. I think it’s important to let the actors help you make those decisions.” Her cast is led by Kevin Adams as Joe Keller, the plagued patriarch at the story’s center. “I just think it’s a role he was born to play,” she said.

”The eye-opening part” of solving these staging quandaries, said Rhea, is that “you have an instinct about it when you see it.” She hopes the audience feels the same way. “We’ve only had two performances so far and people seem to be really responding,” she said.

Though the show leaves no source of sadness unexamined — guilt, grief, envy, rage — “I don’t actually think it’s as taxing” as one might expect, Rhea said. “You just have to be willing to sit there and feel something.”

Nov. 3 - Dec. 1, 1742 Church St. NW, www.keegantheatre.com, 703-892-0202

Bound for Glory

In conjunction with the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie, “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” is enjoying a month-long run at Theater J.

David M. Lutken, one of the show’s devisers, estimates that about 80 percent of the production’s text and music is Guthrie’s own, culled from his autobiography and a mix of published and unpublished works.

“Woody wrote, they say, 1,000 songs,” Lutken said. “And now the modern Woody Guthrie archives people, his daughter, believe it’s more like 3,000 songs, now that they’ve gone through boxes of lyrics or poems. And so in those however-many songs, there are the 50 to 100 that a lot of people know and they’re very important songs and poems, [but] there’s always those odd things you’ve never heard of or seen before.”

That meant, for Lutken, an awful lot of editing — even Lutken’s favorite Guthrie song, “Pretty Boy Floyd,” wound up on the cutting room floor.

Lutken isn’t worried about interest in Guthrie’s political commentary waning in post-election Washington. “Whichever way the election goes, Woody will still be relevant,” he said. “[Guthrie’s] greatest songs . . . really transcend politics and get at something of the heart of the human condition.”

Nov. 8 - Dec. 3, 1529 16th St. NW, www.washingtondcjcc.org, 202-518-9400

‘Into the Dollhouse’

Two members of Banished? Productions, Carmen C. Wong, who conceived and directs “Into the Dollhouse,” and Carrie Monger, rehearsal manager and deviser, don’t entirely agree on what their show is about.

That’s okay, said Wong, and it’s to be expected. “The story doesn’t have characters that resolve any plots or have any motives. It’s not your typical play, in that sense. There’s no plot or counterplot in the Aristotelian definition.”

“It’s about womanhood and what that journey is for each person,” Monger offered.

“I wouldn’t actually say that,” Wong said. “For me, it’s more important that it’s about changing and growing and age and expectations.”

The “devised-movement” performance takes its imagery from all things female — Wong’s memories of her grandmother, the titular dollhouse, baby clothes and dresses — and throws them into a context Wong describes as “dreamlike.” It’s a non-linear exploration of nostalgia and the stages of life.

Wong didn’t have a dollhouse as a child, she said, and for her this production “is a such a lovely way to create a dollhouse now, with all these images . . . filling it with memories and asking other people to do the same. I think it’s an abstraction of that concept of what you give home to. Even when you’re playing with dolls, it’s the sense of, you are creating stories and a life.”

Which is essentially what she’s still doing with her professional life. “I feel like that kind of is what we as artists do: We’re always creating some kind of narrative — this is a character, this is a boy, he’s going here — in the same way we play with dollhouses.”

Nov. 8 - 11, Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW, www.banishedproductions.com, 202-488-3300

‘Miss Saigon’ at Signature

Just in case election exhaustion has you already planning next year’s summer vacation, here’s a save-the-date to keep in mind: Signature Theatre will kick off its 2012-13 season with “Miss Saigon,” directed by artistic director Eric Schaeffer. The production, slated to feature an 18-person cast and a 15-piece orchestra, begins its six-week run in August.

 
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