by Carole Di Tosti
Every family has secrets. What is the efficacy of sharing them when some of the parties have long since died? Is the revelation necessary to expiate guilt, remorse and regret? Or is the disclosure of truth a useful revenge tactic? Paul David Young in All My Fathers directed by Obie-winner Evan Yionoulis raises these complicated questions. He leaves the resolution humorously unfolding in the second half of the production.
Young uncovers the decades-long family secret at the top of the play in a flashback that reveals the romance between Regina (Deborah Hedwall) and Dr. Woodman (Brian Hastert). Their loving relationship and intimacies produced a child which Regina considered aborting since she had another son with her husband Bill (Jonathan Hogan). But she’s a Christian. Rather than divorce Bill and marry Dr. Woodman, a resolution the pediatrician suggests, she decides to stay with the familiar and sacrifice her love to uphold her religion.
Decades later the time shifts to the present. The playwright focuses on son David (Richard Gallagher) who comes to visit Regina and Bill in Kentucky. David is a gay playwright living in New York City who is achieving success. He visits Bill and Regina because he intends to check on his elderly parents, catch up his life with them and hopefully restore any family unity that has disintegrated since his revelation that he is gay, and his move to NYC.
From the moment David walks into the living room, we note there is little affection expressed from his mother who would rather watch her TV program than to talk with her son. As the evening progresses, it becomes obvious that David is closer to his father than his mother who disapproves of his being gay and continually gets “under his skin.” Regardless of what he says, his presence seems to rankle her.
Events explode when cantankerous, addle- minded Regina dumps his true paternity on David’s lap. That she is a Christian conservative who has acted the “wild one,” is the height of hypocrisy. David thinks she is making up the story in a confusion caused by her dementia. However, when David questions her, the conversation escalates from argument to pushing and shoving. Bill who returns from the post office breaks up the furor just in time.
Does Regina’s emotional tyranny against David, who insists they never got along, reflect the complication of her love and regret that she never divorced Bill for Dr. Woodman? Perhaps. However, Regina is not self-aware or given to explanations to clarify for David who is roiled. As any woman might be under the fraught circumstances confronting her “bastard son,” she is inarticulate about the foundation of her guilt and self-hatred for not having the courage to divorce Bill and be with Dr. Woodman who has since died.
For his part Bill is sanguine, good natured and loving. He has known about her love for Dr. Woodman and has taken it in his stride. Meanwhile, David recalls Dr. Woodman and their relationship as he coached the swim team. As David’s doctor he tangentially supervised his growing up. The irony is that he never knew he was interacting with this kind man who potentially was his real father. But it didn’t matter, for Bill who has raised him has been a loving man in his life.
The problem comes when Bill remains equivocal. He suggests he only knows what Regina has told him. And of course, Regina is not the most reliable of confessors. What is the truth?
David attempts to confront this earthquake in his life asking even more questions. Young references Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Chekov’s The Seagull and other plays, presenting David’s conundrum and populating it with absurd elements. The greatest absurdity occurs when Bill, Regina and Dr. Woodman, though dead, return to speak with David when a DNA test arrives and David discovers the truth.
All My Fathers is a clever, circumspect examination of paternity and “how to find it,” especially if one’s mom has been clouding the issue which women may do to save themselves and their children. Young’s humor is salient and sardonic. The actors are just terrific. Yionoulis’ direction reflects the balance needed to move from the dramatic beginning to the humorous, absurdist ending and the lovely reconciliation at the conclusion.
Photos: Theo Cote
All My Fathers runs ninety minutes with no intermission at La Mama Downstairs (66 East 4th Street) until 20th of October. For tickets and times go to La Mama’s website: http://lamama.org/all-my-fathers/