Tom Cruise has been spotted in the audience of All My Sons several times recently supporting his wife, Katie Holmes, who makes her Broadway debut tomorrow night. Holmes plays Arthur Miller's toughened-yet-tenderhearted ingénue, Ann Deever, in a revival of the playwright's first big success. Perhaps Cruise was trying to help create even more buzz for Holmes’ debut, but he needn’t have worried. Her performance is buzz-worthy all by itself—the girl, who recently has been more famous for her religion and toddler, can actually act.
She appears in almost every scene of the play, which is a morality tale about a man, Joe Keller (John Lithgow), who knowingly sold defective airplane parts to the Army. The sale resulted in the deaths of 21 pilots, which he later blamed on his business partner.
So many screen actresses can only summon their talent in emotional segments on film… These actresses seem unsteady whenever they attempt to walk the uninterrupted dramatic through-line required of great stage acting. Holmes, however, more than keeps her balance.
As with many Miller plays, a raw discomfort bubbles underneath the veneer of the typical American family here, and when Miller first produced the play with Elia Kazan in 1947, the two men were both investigated for communist sentiments— All My Sons does not paint the American Dream in the rosiest light. Still, the play won the Tony, and Miller himself was incredibly happy with it. He is said to have commented on it: “The audience sat in silence before the unwinding of All My Sons and gasped when they should have, and I tasted that power which is reserved, I imagine, for playwrights, which is to know that by one’s invention a mass of strangers has been publicly transfixed.”
Miller would have felt powerful watching the revival going up tomorrow—Holmes does do serious work in the show, and she is transfixing. This defies expectations, of course. It is difficult to trust a film actress whose main credits are Dawson’s Creek and Batman Begins, but she makes it work. So many screen actresses can only summon their talent in emotional segments on film, because of the technical stop-and-start intricacies involved when working behind a camera. These actresses seem unsteady whenever they attempt to walk the uninterrupted dramatic through-line required of great stage acting. Holmes does more than keep her balance. When she’s emotionally stranded onstage, it is her character Ann Deever’s predicament she is making us so expertly feel. There is such a primal scream of misplaced love and angry loss that comes from her in the second act, it hits the audience in its collective solar plexus.
This is in no way a complete review of her performance, or of the other members of the cast, which includes Dianne Wiest as well as Lithgow and Patrick Wilson, or of the production itself, which will no doubt prove controversial. Though Arthur Miller was obviously inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s tricky The Master Builder, this production’s acclaimed director, Simon McBurney of London’s Complicite theatre company, seems to have deconstructed the text as if it were a version of Our Town written by Clifford Odets.
During a time when the unsteady economy puts Broadway in a precarious position, and producers will be forced to bring in more and more big names just to fill the seats, this is one casting experiment that may have actually worked.