In Fathers and Sons, two men rehearsing a new play together find a way to relate to each other beyond the fabric of their work. Through introspective dialogue and heated arguments, the old, seasoned bit actor and young new talent share stories of growing up and fitting in, discussing everything from drug abuse to career decisions. Richard Hoehler’s new play gives a genuine insight into the male psyche.
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
Richard Hoehler has written and co-starred in a new theater phenomenon: a male-driven play that keeps the emotions running high and the testosterone in check. Fathers and Sons explores how two very different men (Hoehler as an aging, gay, Caucasian, New Jersey native and Edwin Matos, Jr. an immature, tough Latino from the Bronx) begin working on a play together only to reveal surprising core similarities. Using their real names for each respective character, Richard has written a new piece entitled Fathers and Sons to salvage his career, and co-stars Edwin, an unsure-of-himself Puerto Rican caught between his passion for theater and the blue-collar machismo surrounding his neighborhood and culture.
Their rehearsals include arguments over getting lines memorized and rewriting scene endings, but also personal anecdotes about fathers to help identify character breakthroughs and closures. Over time both men expose where they’ve come from and how they’ve turned out a little more, and Hoehler reveals all this with astounding clarity. Each discussion evolves without any transparent needling, and the heavier subject matter surfaces with natural evasiveness, never forced or browbeaten, a vague comment here, a well-placed beat and break of eye contact there.
The well-balanced play weaves in and out of Richard’s script with lightning speed, Edwin and Richard wrapped up in raw emotion one minute and broken out of character the next with playful banter as they move set pieces around for the next scene. Lighting designer Michael Abrams works wonders here, creating jarring, dramatic shadows against stark lighting during rehearsals and then washing the entire stage in warm undertones when the scene ends. Abrams’ creative execution and on-point cues go beyond good lighting: it helps establish conflict and dynamic between characters, as well as their own volatile chemistry. Throughout the play Richard and Edwin strive to reach a mutual understanding. Richard nags Edwin about being late for rehearsal, Edwin doesn’t know how to achieve to the dual role as the lead male both onstage and within his own family. Instead of cashing in on the coming-of-age setup where the young buck wises up and the kind mentor extends forgiveness, their testy dialogue and below-the-belt insults keep the play real and relatable.
Art also imitates life with Matos, Jr., cast as the young star unaware of his own talent, which holds true for both his character and his acting. Matos, Jr. gives a cunning, convincing performance brimming with emotion and adaptability. He runs the spectrum of a husband battling alcoholism after his estranged father pops up to someone too embarrassed to bring his illiterate immigrant father with him on a college interview, to the main role of the actor Edwin, a softhearted yet macho street kid still uncomfortable doing theater with an older, gay mentor. Combined with Hoehler’s poignant writing Matos, Jr. helps the play to transcend stereotypes by both breaking out of them and breaking them down.
The set and sound design also help to define the tone of each scene. Set designer Todd Edwin Ivins has envisioned the perfect live/work studio for Richard. The closed quarters comprises ratty furniture and a gray-metal paint job, industrial coat hooks, stray set equipment strewn about, with the rehearsal space downstage and a duvet overhead, accessible only through a fire escape-style ladder bolted to the upstage wall. Scott O’Brien’s original tear-jerking piano score mellows everything out, providing expressive breaks in the script such as the silence after Edwin nails that confessional monologue or the final parting scene. Directed by Chris Dolman, who makes sure each scene goes for the jugular while allowing the well-written characters and capable actors to drive the piece, Fathers and Sons shows men in a touching, standup capacity. Lacking violence and profanity, these male characters instead have a very universal framework, and since they serve a purpose beyond mere plot device (the aggressor, the purveyor, etc.) it gives them a greater need and relevance here, and the chance to see men act human.
Fathers and Sons (90 minutes; no intermission)
The Lion Theater @ Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets (www.ticketcentral.com or 212.279.4200): $25
Performances (through 10/4): Weds.-Sats. @ 8pm; Suns. @ 3pm
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.