AS JOE Keller, the affable, self-made patriarch nursing a terrible secret in Arthur Miller's first Broadway hit, puts it, the Second World War "changed all the tallies".
As the drama unfolds, the phrase gathers increasingly loaded significance, pointing not only to the casualty lists and the war's innumerable other reversals of fortune, but also to Miller's central questions about how we reckon up conflicting values, whether in the context of fighting Fascism or of everyday life.
The great strength of the piece - and of Richard Baron's production, the second by Dundee's recently-formed ensemble company - is its refusal to simplify these issues or to condemn even those characters who fall far short of the honourable ideal. On the contrary, every time we seem to have arrived at a position from which judgements can be made, it is swiftly undercut as the playwright introduces yet another frame of emotional, psychological, political or ethical reference.
His minutely crafted dialogue and intricate, beautifully measured exposition, are complemented by a set of fluently natural performances that steadily deepen in resonance.
The extended rehearsal time made available by the company's new long- term footing pays off handsomely. Ann Louise Ross, in magnificent form as Joe's wife, Kate, clinging fiercely to her belief in their missing elder son's eventual return from the war, is particularly strong, her hawk-eyed watchfulness and subtle expressive reactions adding further layers to a powerfully complex portrayal.
Playing Joe, John Buick is utterly convincing and, by the end, utterly heartbreaking in his depiction of an uneducated man who has followed the rules of the American Dream and won, only to lose everything. His relationship with his warm-hearted, high-minded younger son, Chris (Richard Conlon), who stands to inherit Joe's successful manufacturing business, quietly exposes the element of luxury involved in adherence to principle.
The cast manages to vividly reveal the internal duplicity that forms the characters' defence against their respective dilemmas. Almost all of them, in their own ways, inhabit a private reality that, however individually necessary, cannot stand against any true realisation of the common humanity encapsulated in the title.
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