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All My Sons

When an outstanding free production of a classic drama can't draw a crowd, we all lose

Reviewed by Adam Roberts, Fri., July 27, 2012

Exhibitionism

All My Sons

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 736-5191
Through Aug. 4
Running Time: 2 hr., 30 min.

It is, hands down, one of the best things I've seen during my seven years in Austin. And it's free.

Free, people. So why, I feel compelled to query, was there such a dismal turnout at Palindrome Theatre Company's opening night of All My Sons? OK, so there hadn't yet been time for word of mouth to spread about the first-rate acting, high-caliber designs, and wholly riveting production. Nor, of course, had any reviews been released – including Statesman critic Cate Blouke's, which hailed it as "outstanding" and "poignant." But seriously, with names like Babs George attached and – remember – that gratis admission, why on earth should Salvage Vanguard's house have been less than half full? Were some would-be patrons remaining safely at home on Friday the 13th?

That was the best answer I could surmise – but, then, what explains the consistently poor turnout for so many of Austin's other theatre productions? In a market where audiences regularly consist of 10 people, 20, or even 35 (as I estimate was the case with All My Sons), it's easy for theatre artists to feel disheartened. I have my theories (as I imagine we all do) regarding the multifaceted decision-making processes at play among Austin's theatre patrons (and artists), but for the purposes of this topic, suffice it to say that Salvage Vanguard should have been filled to the gills for All My Sons' opening. Did I mention admission is free?

But even though the "ticket price" (or lack thereof) and highly lauded personae in the cast should have provided the necessary clues that there could be nothing to lose here, the additional reasons that this show is not to be missed are numerous. The acting is superb. The designers' work is inspired. The direction is thoughtful, intentional, and specific. And, above all, there's context: All My Sons, states Palindrome's site, is presented "as a way of exploring our nation's Military Industrial Complex, its reach into our homes, and its intertwining into the fabric of the American Dream." This is theatre with a stated purpose, executed with a precision rivaling that of nearly any production I've attended in Central Texas. It deserves to be seen, heard, and felt. You don't have to agree with its message. But you do have to see it.

There's no reason to single out any cast or production team member here, as the matching of their talents was, quite possibly, the most striking aspect of the production. It was hard to spot the proverbial weak link in anyone's contributions. Of course, there may very well be those of you who disagree with my assessment. If you've seen the production and feel differently, I welcome that. It's the very subjectivity of each observer's perspective that makes theatre so intriguing and fun. But that individual experience is also very much affected by those around us in the house. And who knows, maybe Palindrome's audience numbers were better in subsequent performances. What I do know is that if there are too few present with whom to commune in this experience we know as theatre – with whom to agree, disagree, or agree to disagree – it's to the detriment of us all: the creators, patrons, and our theatrical landscape.

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