Writer: Paul David Young
Director: Evan Yionoulis
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
Watching a parent age is difficult, especially if their memories are unreliable. Add a contentious past to the mix and it’s hard not to let frustration boil over into anger. An aging mother unloading a decades-old secret that challenges all that her adult son knows to be true about his parents is the inciting action of Paul David Young’s new play, All My Fathers, directed by Evan Yianoulis and currently running at La MaMa E.T.C.
All My Fathers opens with David (Richard Gallagher) a playwright from New York, returning to his childhood home in Kentucky to visit his parents, Regina (Deborah Hedwall) and Bill (Jonathan Hogan). Bill is solid, patient, and steadfast, while Regina gets on David’s last nerve—she insists she has cancer, but the doctor says otherwise. She forgets what she’s said from minute to minute, wakes him up at the crack of dawn, and, out of the blue, tells him that Bill’s not his biological father. Regina insists that she had an affair with the family pediatrician, Dr. Woodman (Brian Hastert) and that David was the result. We are unsure whether we should believe Regina or if these are dementia-induced fantasies. The question of who to believe becomes murkier as the play takes a metatheatrical turn and a conversation between David and Dr. Woodman (A ghost? A dream? Who knows?) reveals all of this things that David changed when he wrote the scene for the stage. The play ends with a long tale involving the customer service department of 23andMe and more questions, but no concrete answers.
Paul David Young based the play on an experience from his own life and incorporates material from a variety of plays about families from across the Western canon, from Oedipus to August: Osage County, from Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine to The Seagull. Amazingly, everything fits together cohesively to make a truly wonderful piece of theatre. In Evan Yionoulis’ capable hands, a script that could have been played as complete tragedy or as a mockery of the aging mind walks a fine balance that lets us laugh at absurdity of the situation but also see the genuine pain that it causes each character. Acting is stellar throughout, especially Deborah Hedwall’s Regina, who is both maddening and heartbreaking. Design elements are strong; in particular, Melissa Friedling’s excellent video design is complemented by Ao Li’s simple, versatile set.
Leo Tolstoy said that, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,”; it’s quoted enough to be laughably cliché. In All My Fathers, Paul David Young manages to weave material from thousands of years of literature’s unhappy families into his own story and make it all sound like one family, undeniably distinct and yet painfully familiar. All My Fathers is remarkable work and should not be missed.
Runs Until 20 October 2019 | Photo Credit: Theo Cote