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Katie Holmes' one-note debut in 'All My Sons' is a little off-key

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USA Today
By Elysa Gardner
10/16/08

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NEW YORK — Ever since word got out that Katie Holmes would appear in a revival of "All My Sons" (**½ out of four), the blogosphere has been buzzing. Celebrity junkies who probably haven't thought about Arthur Miller since reading the CliffsNotes for Death of a Salesman in high school are dying to know how Mrs. Tom Cruise will fare in her Broadway debut.

So let's get this out of the way: In Sons, which opened Thursday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Holmes does not a) forget her lines, b) get naked (as the last Mrs. Cruise did in her Broadway debut), c) look fat in her costumes or d) toss out non sequiturs that seem like references to Scientology.

That's not to say Holmes' performance is a revelation. At best, she exhibits a girlish exuberance that could serve her well in certain stage roles, provided she finds a director who can ease her obvious self-consciousness and get her to focus on the often-intricate process of character development.

Sadly, Simon McBurney, who helms this production, is not that director. McBurney and his creative team's approach to Miller's morality tale isn't big on subtlety. Before the first act, an operatic windstorm brings down a symbolically ripe tree. Sound designers Christopher Shutt and Carolyn Downing provide an undercurrent of ominous music that seems to swell whenever things get really tense, and stark projected images further embellish the dialogue.

But the accomplished actors with whom Holmes shares top billing are better at tempering dramatic gestures with nuance, and McBurney nurtures their sensitive rapport. John Lithgow is painfully convincing as Joe Keller, a businessman haunted by the disappearance of his son in World War II and a possibly related professional transgression.

The marvelous Dianne Wiest offers a witty, heartbreaking portrait of Joe's tortured wife, Kate, who has her own talent for denial. Patrick Wilson movingly traces the disillusionment of their surviving son, Chris, who shares his missing brother's affection for the daughter of Joe's former colleague.

When Holmes introduces that young woman, Ann Deever, she is intriguingly vital, a breath of fresh air in the Kellers' stifled lives. But as Ann's experience evolves and her emotions shift, Holmes' tone doesn't. Her initial poise begins to seem strained and her relentlessly energetic line readings strangely flat — even when she screams them out, as she does quite jarringly at one point.

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