5 POINTS OR LESS
exploration of male roles and relationships • “traditional” and “non-traditional” father/son issues • good discussion material for parents of adolescent males • play within a play • strong performances
BOTTOM LINE: Two actors, one older and one younger, perform six connected scenes exploring various contemporary male relationships including father/son. Fathers & Sons is an earnest attempt to promote mutual understanding between men of different backgrounds, sexual orientations, classes, and generations.
Richard Hoehler has a lot to say about male relationships in his play Fathers & Sons, and he says it with gusto. The play is ambitious and passionate, and has an earnestness that to my mind makes it ideal for family audiences, especially those with adolescent males. Hoehler is an educator who conducts writing and acting workshops for NYC high school students, and you can sense his affinity for teaching in every moment of Fathers & Sons. Parents who are looking for theater that is both entertaining and instructive will find that this play raises tantalizing questions about what it means to be a father, a son, and a man in 21st century America.
Two actors (Hoehler and Edwin Matos, Jr.) portray six pairs of men, each a variation of father/son. Scene by scene, they explore the dynamics of male relationships: power, control, responsibility, abandonment – and love. The scenes are presented as rehearsals for a play called "Fathers & Sons," and the actors seem to be playing versions of themselves. “Richard” is an actor/writer/teacher who has agreed to coach “Edwin,” a talented but undisciplined young man. When Richard gets the chance to present the play to a representative of the Public Theater, the stakes are raised. This is his big chance for recognition in the professional theater. But is Edwin up to the task?
The scenes they perform, while often peppered with humor, take on serious issues of contemporary male identity: a stepfather and stepson compete for primacy in a poor household; a Latino son preparing for college must tell his proud but illiterate father that his presence at an important interview could damage his chance for a scholarship; an acting teacher and his student become sexually intimate only to face unexpected consequences the next morning; a loving but overwhelmed uncle must insist that his learning-disabled nephew move out of his apartment and into a group home; a father who has spent years in prison and who is now dying appeals for forgiveness from his embittered son. The connective tissue is the relationship between Richard and Edwin, fraught with similar tensions. Mutual need forces each to grapple with his understanding of the other man—and himself.
The production is tightly directed by Chris Dolman and both actors give strong performances. Ironically, Hoehler the playwright gives Matos the better roles and material. Richard confesses in the play that he has always been afraid of success and that it’s “easier saving souls in the South Bronx than competing in the Big League” of the New York theater. I was particularly struck by his jaundiced take on the actor’s life, which includes auditions for “don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss me parts on Law & Order Special Bullshit Unit.” Hoehler is believable in his roles. Matos is truly compelling.
The theme of Fathers & Sons is ageless: how do men learn to express love for each other in a world that seems to demand competitive toughness above all else? These characters struggle to choose love and forgiveness over anger and blame, and for that they--and Hoehler--deserve our praise.
(Fathers & Sons will perform through October 4, Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 3pm, at the Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $25 through Ticket Central online at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212-279-4200. For more info visit FathersandSonsOnstage.com)