All the Way Home, Griffin Theatre Company. Tad Mosel's 1961 Pulitzer-winning Broadway play faithfully re-creates the tone of James Agee's taut, clear-eyed, unsentimental autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family. The central event in both works may be the untimely death of Agee's father, but Mosel handles it the way Agee does, as one incident among many that crowd the lives of this Tennessee family. Yes, there's sorrow, but it's expressed as Agee's stoical characters express it, in pauses and between the lines. When Agee's mother hears of her husband's death, her first reaction is not to break down in tears but to stiffen her spine, to show her family and God her inner resolve--a resolve that makes her meltdown a little while later all the more shocking and powerful.
In reviving this admittedly old-fashioned play, director Richard Barletta and his ensemble emphasize all that's strong, lean, and subtle in the script. Even when it calls for excess--as when the alcoholic uncle, Ralph, talks too loudly and intemperately--Benjamin Summers errs on the side of restraint, playing Ralph not as a sloppy drunk but as a prideful man who thinks he can hold his liquor but can't. Even more impressive, given the play's many opportunities for quaintness and nostalgia, is the fact that Barletta's cast never pander to family values kitsch.